BELGARATH THE SORCEROR
by David and Leigh Eddings
Publication date: August 1995 in hardcover
Copyright © 1995 by David and Leigh Eddings
Use of this excerpt from Belgarath the Sorceror by David and Leigh Eddings may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: copyright ©1995 by David and Leigh Eddings.Chapter One
The problem with any ideas is the fact that the more it gets bandied about, the more feasible it seems to become. What starts out as idle speculation--something mildly entertaining to while away a few hours before going to bed--can become, once others are drawn into it, a kind of obligation. Why can't people understand that just because I'm willing to talk about something, it doesn't automatically follow that I'm actually willing to do it?
As a case in point, this all started with Durnik's rather inane remark about wanting to hear the whole story. You know how Durnik is, forever taking things apart to see what makes them work. I can forgive him in this case, however. Pol had just presented him with twins, and new fathers tend to be a bit irrational. Garion, on the other hand, should have had sense enough to leave it alone. I curse the day when I encouraged that boy to be curious about first causes. He can be so tedious about some things. If he'd have just let it drop, I wouldn't be saddled with this awful chore.
But no. The two of them went on and on about it for day after day as if the fate of the world depended on it. I tried to get around them with a few vague promises--nothing specific, mind you--and fervently hoped that they'd forget about the whole silly business.
Then Garion did something so unscrupulous, so underhanded, that it shocked me to the very core. He told Polgara about the stupid idea, and when he got back to Riva, he told Ce'Nedra. That would have been bad enough, but would you believe that he actually encouraged those two to bring Poledra into it?
I'll admit right here that it was my own fault. My only excuse is that I was a little tired that night. I'd inadvertently let something slip that I've kept buried in my heart for three eons. Poledra had been with child, and I'd gone off and left her to fend for herself. I've carried the guilt over that for almost half of my life. It's like a knife twisting inside me. Garion knew that, and he coldly, deliberately, used it to force me to take on this ridiculous project. He knows that under these circumstances, I simply cannot refuse anything my wife asks of me.
Poledra, of course, didn't put any pressure on me. She didn't have to. All she had to do was suggest that she'd rather like to have me go along with the idea. Under the circumstances, I didn't have any choice. I hope that the Rivan King is happy about what he's done to me.
This is most certainly a mistake. Wisdom tells me that it would be far better to leave things as they are, with event and cause alike half buried in the dust of forgotten years. If it were up to me, I would leave it that way. The truth is going to upset a lot of people.
Few will understand and fewer still accept what I am about to set forth, but as my grandson and son-in-law so pointedly insisted, if I don't tell the story, somebody else will; and since I alone know the beginning and middle and end of it, it falls to me to commit to perishable parchment, with ink that begins to fade before it even dries, some ephemeral account of what really happened--and why.
Thus, let me begin this story as all stories are begun, at the beginning.
I was born in the village of Gara, which no longer exists. It lay, if I remember it correctly, on a pleasant green bank beside a small river that sparkled in the summer sun as if its surface were covered with jewels--and I'd trade all the jewels I've ever owned or seen to sit again beside that unnamed river.
Our village was not rich, but in those days none were. The world was at peace, and our Gods walked among us and smiled upon us. We had enough to eat and huts to shelter us from the weather. I don't recall who our God was, nor his attributes, nor his totem. I was very young at the time, and it was, after all, long ago.
I played with the other children in the warm, dusty streets, ran through the long grass and the wildflowers in the meadows, and paddled in that sparkling river that was drowned by the Sea of the East so many years ago that they are beyond counting.
My mother died when I was quite young. I remember that I cried about it for a long time, though I must honestly admit that I can no longer even remember her face. I remember the gentleness of her hands and the warm smell of fresh-baked bread that came from her garments, but I can't remember her face. Isn't that odd?
The people of Gara took over my upbringing at that point. I never knew my father, and I have no recollection of having any living relatives in that place. The villagers saw to it that I was fed, gave me cast-off clothing, and let me sleep in their cow sheds. They called me Garath, which meant "of the town of Gara" in our particular dialect. It may or may not have been my real name. I can no longer remember what name my mother had given me, not that it really matters, I suppose. Garath was a serviceable enough name for an orphan, and I didn't loom very large in the social structure of the village.
Our village lay somewhere near where the ancestral homelands of the Tolnedrans, the Nyissans, and the Marags joined. I think we were all of the same race, but I can't really be sure. I can only remember one temple--if you can call it that--which would seem to indicate that we all worshiped the same God and were thus of the same race. I was indifferent to religion at that time, so I can't recall if the temple had been raised to Nedra or Mara or Issa. The lands of the Arends lay somewhat to the north, so it's even possible that our rickety little church had been built to honor Chaldan. I'm certain that we didn't worship Torak or Belar. I think I would have remembered had it been either of those two.
Even as a child I was expected to earn my keep; the villagers weren't very keen about maintaining me in idle luxury. They put me to work as a cowherd, but I wasn't very good at it, if you must know the truth. Our cows were scrubby and quite docile, so not too many of them strayed off while they were in my care, and those that did usually returned for milking in the evening. All in all, though, being a cowherd was a good vocation for a boy who wasn't all that enthusiastic about honest work.
My only possessions in those days were the clothes on my back, but I soon learned how to fill in the gaps. Locks had not yet been invented, so it wasn't too difficult for me to explore the huts of my neighbors when they were out working in the fields. Mostly I stole food, although a few small objects did find their way into my pockets from time to time. Unfortunately, I was the natural suspect when things turned up missing. Orphans were not held in very high regard at that particular time. At any rate, my reputation deteriorated as the years went by, and the other children were instructed to avoid me. My neighbors viewed me as lazy and generally unreliable, and they also called me a liar and a thief--often right to my face! I won't bother to deny the charges, but it's not really very nice to come right out and say it like that, is it? They watched me closely, and they pointedly told me to stay out of town except at night. I largely ignored those petty restrictions and actually began to enjoy the business of creeping about in search of food or whatever else might fall to hand. I began to think of myself as a very clever fellow.
I guess I was about thirteen or so when I began to notice girls. That really made my neighbors nervous. I had a certain rakish celebrity in the village, and young people of an impressionable age find that sort of thing irresistibly attractive. As I said, I began to notice girls, and the girls noticed me right back. One thing led to another, and on a cloudy spring morning one of the village elders caught me in his hay barn with his youngest daughter. Let me hasten to assure you that nothing was really going on. Oh, a few harmless kisses, perhaps, but nothing any more serious. The girl's father, however, immediately thought the worst of me and gave me the thrashing of my life.
I finally managed to escape from him and ran out of the village. I waded across the river and climbed the hill on the far side to sulk. The air was cool and dry, and the clouds raced overhead in the fresh young wind. I sat there for a very long time considering my situation. I concluded that I had just about exhausted the possibilities of Gara. My neighbors, with some justification, I'll admit, looked at me with hard-eyed suspicion most of the time, and the incident in the hay barn was likely to be blown all out of proportion. A certain cold logic advised me that it wouldn't be too long before I'd be asked pointedly to leave.
Well, I certainly wasn't going to give them that satisfaction. I looked down at the tiny cluster of dun-colored huts beside a small river that didn't sparkle beneath the scudding clouds of spring. And then I turned and looked to the west at a vast grassland and white-topped mountains beyond and clouds rolling in the grey sky, and I felt a sudden overwhelming compulsion to go. There was more to the world than the village of Gara, and I suddenly wanted very much to go look at it. There was nothing really keeping me, and the father of my little playmate would probably be laying in wait for me--with cudgel--every time I turned around. I made up my mind at that point.
I visited the village one last time, shortly after midnight. I certainly didn't intend to leave empty-handed. A storage shed provided me with as much food as I could carry conveniently, and, since it's not prudent to travel unarmed, I also took a fairly large knife. I'd fashioned a sling a year or so previously, and the tedious hours spent watching over other people's cows had given me plenty of time for practice. I wonder whatever happened to that sling.
I looked around the shed and decided that I had everything I really needed, and so I crept quietly down that dusty street, waded across the river again, and went from that place forever.
When I think back on it, I realize that I owe that heavy-handed villager an enormous debt of gratitude. Had he not come into that barn when he did, I might never have climbed that hill on such a day to gaze to the west, and I might very well have lived out my life in Gara and died there. Isn't it odd how the little things can change a man's entire life?
The lands of the Tolnedrans lay to the west, and by morning I was well within their borders. I had no real destination in mind, just that odd compulsion to travel westward. I passed a few villages, but saw no real reason to stop.
It was two--or perhaps three--days after I left Gara when I encountered a humorous, good-natured old fellow driving a rickety cart. "Where be ye bound, boy?" he asked me in what seemed to me at the time to be an outlandish dialect.
"Oh," I replied with a vague gesture toward the west, "that way, I guess."
"You don't seem very certain."
I grinned at him. "I'm not," I admitted. "It's just that I've got a powerful urge to see what's on the other side of the next hill."
He evidently took me quite literally. At the time I thought he was a Tolnedran, and I've noticed that they're all very literal-minded. "Not much on the other side of that hill up ahead but Tol Malin," he told me.
"It's a fair-size town. The people who live there have a puffed-up opinion of themselves. Anybody else wouldn't have bothered with that `Tol,' but they seem to think it makes the place sound important. I'm going that way myself, and if you're of a mind, you can ride along. Hop up, boy. It's a long way to walk."
I thought at the time that all Tolnedrans spoke the way he did, but I soon found out that I was wrong. I tarried for a couple of weeks in Tol Malin, and it was there that I first encountered the concept of money. Trust the Tolnedrans to invent money. I found the whole idea fascinating. Here was something small enough to be portable and yet of enormous value. Someone who's just stolen a chair or a table or a horse is fairly conspicuous. Money, on the other hand, can't be identified as someone else's property once it's in your pocket.
Unfortunately, Tolnedrans are very possessive about their money, and it was in Tol Malin that I first heard someone shout "Stop, thief!" I left town rather quickly at that point.
I hope you realize that I wouldn't be making such an issue of some of my boyhood habits except for the fact that my daughter can be very tiresome about my occasional relapses. I'd just like for people to see my side of it for a change. Given my circumstances, did I really have any choice?
Oddly enough, I encountered that same humorous old fellow again about five miles outside Tol Malin. "Well, boy," he greeted me. "I see that you're still moving along westward."
"There was a little misunderstanding back in Tol Malin," I replied defensively. "I thought it might be best for me to leave."
He laughed knowingly, and for some reason his laughter made my whole day seem brighter. He was a very ordinary-looking old fellow with white hair and beard, but his deep blue eyes seemed strangely out of place in his wrinkled face. They were very wise, but they didn't seem to be the eyes of an old man. They also seemed to see right through all my excuses and lame explanations. "Well, hop up again, boy," he told me. "We still both seem to be going in the same direction."
We traveled across the lands of the Tolnedrans for the next several weeks, moving steadily westward. This was before those people developed their obsession with straight, well-maintained roads, and what we followed were little more than wagon tracks that meandered along the course of least resistance across the meadows.
Like just about everybody else in the world in those days, the Tolnedrans were farmers. There were very few isolated farmsteads out in the countryside, because for the most part the people lived in villages, went out to work their fields each morning, and returned to the villages each night.
We passed one of those villages one morning about the middle of summer, and I saw those farmers trudging out to work. "Wouldn't it be easier if they'd just build their houses out where their fields are?" I asked the old man.
"Probably so," he agreed, "but then they'd be peasants instead of townsmen. A Tolnedran would sooner die than have others think of him as a peasant."
"That's ridiculous," I objected. "They spend all day every day grubbing in the dirt, and that means that they are peasants, doesn't it?"
"Yes," he replied calmly, "but they seem to think that if they live in a village, that makes them townsmen."
"Is that so important to them?"
"Very important, boy. A Tolnedran always wants to keep a good opinion of himself."
"I think it's stupid, myself."
"Many of the things people do are stupid. Keep your eyes and ears open the next time we go through one of these villages. If you pay attention, you'll see what I'm talking about."
I probably wouldn't even have noticed if he hadn't pointed it out. We passed through several of these villages during the next couple of weeks, and I got to know the Tolnedrans. I didn't care too much for them, but I got to know them. A Tolnedran spends just about every waking minute trying to determine his exact rank in his community, and the higher he perceives his rank to be, the more offensive he becomes. He treats his servant badly--not out of cruelty, but out of a deep-seated need to establish his superiority. He'll spend hours in front of a mirror practicing a haughty, superior expression. Maybe that's what set my teeth on edge. I don't like having people look down their noses at me, and my status as a vagabond put me at the very bottom of the social ladder, so everybody looked down his nose at me.
"The next pompous ass who sneers at me is going to get a punch in the mouth," I muttered darkly as we left yet another village as summer was winding down.
The old man shrugged. "Why bother?"
"I don't care for people who treat me like dirt."
"Do you really care what they think?"
"Not in the slightest."
"Why waste your energy then? You've got to learn to laugh these things off, boy. Those self-important villagers are silly, aren't they?"
"Of course they are."
"Wouldn't hitting one of them in the face make you just as silly--or even sillier? As long as you know who you are, does it really matter what other people think about you?"
"Well, no, but--" I groped for some kind of explanation, but I didn't find one. I finally laughed a bit sheepishly.
He patted my shoulder affectionately. "I thought you might see it that way--eventually."
That may have been one of the more important lessons I've learned over the years. Privately laughing at silly people is much more satisfying in the long run than rolling around in the middle of a dusty street with them, trying to knock out all of their teeth. If nothing else, it's easier on your clothes.
The old man didn't really seem to have a destination. He had a cart, but he wasn't carrying anything important in it--just a few half full sacks of grain for his stumpy horse, a keg of water, a bit of food, and several shabby old blankets that he seemed happy to share with me. The better we grew acquainted, the more I grew to like him. He seemed to see his way straight to the core of things, and he usually found something to laugh about in what he saw. In time, I began to laugh too, and I realized that he was the closest thing to a friend I'd ever had.
He passed the time by telling me about the people who lived on that broad plain. I got the impression that he spent a great deal of his time traveling. Despite his humorous way of talking--or maybe because of it--I found his perceptions about the various races to be quite acute. I've spent thousands of years with those people, and I've never once found those first impressions he gave me to be wrong. He told me that the Alorns were rowdies, the Tolnedrans materialistic, and the Arends not quite bright. The Marags were emotional, flighty, and generous to a fault. The Nyissans were sluggish and devious, and the Angaraks obsessed with religion. He had nothing but pity for the Morindim and the Karands, and, given his earthy nature, a peculiar kind of respect for the mystical Dals. I felt a peculiar wrench and a sense of profound loss when, on another one of those cool, cloudy days, he reined in his horse and said, "This is as far as I'm going, boy. Hop on down."
It was the abruptness more than anything that upset me. "Which way are you heading?" I asked him.
"What difference does it make, boy? You're going west, and I'm not. We'll come across each other again, but for right now we're going our separate ways. You've got more to see, and I've already seen what lies in that direction. We can talk about it the next time we meet. I hope you find what you're looking for, but for right now, hop down."
I felt more than a little injured by this rather cavalier dismissal, so I wasn't very gracious as I gathered up my belongings, got out of his cart, and struck off toward the west. I didn't look back, so I couldn't really say which direction he took. By the time I did throw a quick glance over my shoulder, he was out of sight.
He had given me a general idea of the geography ahead of me, and I knew that it was late enough in the summer to make the notion of exploring the mountains a very bad idea. The old man had told me that there was a vast forest ahead of me, a forest lying on either side of a river that, unlike other rivers, ran from south to north. From his description I knew that the land ahead was sparsely settled, so I'd be obliged to fend for myself rather than rely on pilferage to sustain me. But I was young and confident of my skill with my sling, so I was fairly sure that I could get by.
As it turned out, however, I wasn't obliged to forage for food that winter. Right on the verge of the forest, I found a large encampment of strange old people who lived in tents rather than huts. They spoke a language I didn't understand, but they made me welcome with gestures and weepy smiles.
Theirs was perhaps the most peculiar community I've ever encountered, and believe me, I've seen a lot of communities. Their skin was strangely colorless, which I assumed to be a characteristic of their race, but the truly odd thing was that there didn't seem to be a soul among them who was a day under seventy.
They made much of me, and most of them wept the first time they saw me. They would sit by the hour and just look at me, which I found disconcerting, to say the very least. They fed me and pampered me and provided me with what might be called luxurious quarters--if a tent could ever be described as luxurious. The tent had been empty, and I discovered that there were many empty tents in their encampment. Within a month or two I was able to find out why. Scarcely a week went by when at least one of them didn't die. As I said, they were all very old. Have you any idea of how depressing it is to live in a place where there's a perpetual funeral going on?
Winter was coming on, however, and I had a place to sleep and a fire to keep me warm, and the old people kept me well fed, so I decided that I could stand a little depression. I made up my mind, though, that with the first hint of spring, I'd be gone.
I made no particular effort to learn their language that winter and picked up only a few words. The most continually repeated among them were "Gorim" and "UL," which seemed to be names of some sort and were almost always spoken in tones of profoundest regret.
In addition to feeding me, the old people provided me with clothing; my own hadn't been very good in the first place and ha become badly worn during the course of my journey. This involved no great sacrifice on their part, since a community in which there are two or three funerals every few weeks is bound to have spare clothes lying about.
When the snow melted and the frost began to seep out of the ground, I quietly began to make preparations to leave. I stole food--a little at a time to avoid suspicionhid it in my tent. I filched a rather nice wool cloak from the tent of one of the recently deceased and picked up a few other useful items here and there. I scouted the surrounding area carefully and found a place where I could ford the large river just to the west of the encampment. Then, with my escape route firmly in mind, I settled down to wait for the last of winter to pass.
As is usual in the early spring, we had a couple of weeks of fairly steady rain, so I still waited, although my impatience to be gone was becoming almost unbearable. During the course of that winter, that peculiar compulsion that had nagged at me since I'd left Gara had subtly altered. Now I seemed to be drawn southward instead of to the west.
The rains finally let up, and the spring sun seemed warm enough to make traveling pleasant. One evening I gathered up the fruits of my pilferage, stowed them in the rude pack I'd fashioned during the long winter evenings, and sat in my tent listening in almost breathless anticipation as the sounds of the old people gradually subsided. Then, when all was quiet, I crept out of my temporary home and made for the edge of the woods.
The moon was full that night, and the stars seemed very bright. I crept through the shadowy woods, waded the river, and emerged on the other side filled with a sense of enormous exhilaration. I was free!
I followed the river southward for the better part of that night, putting as much distance as I possibly could between me and the old people--enough certainly so that their creaky old limbs would not permit them to follow.
The forest seemed incredibly old. The trees were huge, and the forest floor, all overspread by that leafy green canopy, was devoid of the usual underbrush, carpeted instead with lush green moss. It seemed to me an enchanted forest, and once I was certain there would be no pursuit, I found that I wasn't really in any great hurry, so I strolled--sauntered if you will--southward with no real sense of urgency, aside from that now-gentle compulsion to go someplace, and I hadn't really the faintest idea of where.
And then the land opened up. What had been forest became a kind of vale, a grassy basin dotted here and there with delightful groves of trees verged with thickets of lush berry bushes, centering around deep, cold springs of water so clear that I could look down through ten feet of it at trout, which, all unafraid, looked up curiously at me as I knelt to drink.
And deer, as placid and docile as sheep, grazed in the lush green meadows and watched with large and gentle eyes as I passed.
All bemused, I wandered, more content than I had ever been. The distant voice of prudence told me that my store of food wouldn't last forever, but it didn't really seem to diminish--perhaps because I glutted myself on berries and other strange fruits.
I lingered long in that magic vale, and in time I came to its very center, where there grew a tree so vast that my mind reeled at the immensity of it.
I make no pretense at being a horticulturist, but I've been nine times around the world, and so far as I've seen, there's no other tree like it anywhere. And, in what was probably a mistake, I went to the tree and laid my hands upon its rough bark. I've always wondered what might have happened if I had not.
The peace that came over me was indescribable. My somewhat prosaic daughter will probably dismiss my bemusement as natural laziness, but she'll be wrong about that. I have no idea of how long I sat in rapt communion with that ancient tree. I know that I must have been somehow nourished and sustained as hours, days, even months drifted by unnoticed, but I have no memory of ever eating or sleeping.
And then, overnight, it turned cold and began to snow. Winter, like death, had been creeping up behind me all the while.
I'd formulated a rather vague intention to return to the camp of the old people for another winter of pampering if nothing better turned up, but it was obvious that I'd lingered too long in the mesmerizing shade of that silly tree.
And the snow piled so deep that I could barely flounder my way through it. My food was gone, and my shoes wore out, and I lost my knife, and it suddenly turned very, very cold. I'm not making any accusations here, but it seemed to me that this was all just a little excessive.
In the end, soaked to the skin and with ice forming in my hair, I huddled behind a pile of rock that seemed to reach up into the very heart of the snowstorm that swirled around me, and I tried to prepare myself for death. I thought of the village of Gara, and of the grassy fields around it, and of our sparkling river, and of my mother, and--because I was still really very young--I cried.
"Why weepest thou, boy?" The voice was very gentle. The snow was so thick that I couldn't see who spoke, but the tone made me angry for some reason. Didn't I have reason to cry?
"Because I'm cold and I'm hungry," I replied, "and because I'm dying and I don't want to."
"Why art thou dying? Art thou injured?"
"I'm lost," I said a bit tartly, "and it's snowing and I have no place to go." Was he blind?
"Is this reason enough amongst thy kind to die?"
"Isn't it enough?"
"And how long dost thou expect this dying of thine to persist?" The voice seemed only mildly curious.
"I don't know," I replied through a sudden wave of self-pity. "I've never done it before."
The wind howled and the snow swirled more thickly around me.
"Boy," the voice said finally, "come here to me."
"Where are you? I can't see you."
"Walk around the tower to thy left. Knowest thou thy left hand from thy right?"
He didn't have to be so insulting! I stumbled angrily to my half-frozen feet, blinded by the driving snow.
"Well, boy? Art thou coming?"
I moved around what I thought was only a pile of rocks.
"Thou shalt come to a smooth grey stone," the voice said. "It is somewhat taller than thy head and as broad as thine arms may reach."
"All right," I said through chattering teeth when I reached the rock he'd described. "Now what?"
"Tell it to open."
"Speak unto the stone," the voice said patiently, ignoring the fact that I was congealing in the gale. "Command it to open."
"Thou art a man. It is but a rock."
"What do I say?"
"Tell it to open."
"I think this is silly, but I'll try it." I faced the rock. "Open," I commanded halfheartedly.
"Surely thou canst do better than that."
"Open!" I thundered.
The rock slid aide.
"Come in, boy," the voice said. "Stand not in the weather like some befuddled calf. It is quite cold." Had he only just now noticed that?
I went inside what appeared to be some kind of vestibule with nothing in it but a stone staircase winding upward. Oddly, it wasn't dark, though I couldn't see exactly where the light came from.
"Close the door, boy."
"How didst though open it?"
I turned to face that gaping opening, and, quite proud of myself, I commanded, "Close!" At the sound of my voice, the rock slid shut with a grinding sound that chilled my blood even more than the fierce storm outside. I was trapped! My momentary panic passed as I suddenly realized that I was dry for the first time in days. There wasn't even a puddle around my feet! Something strange was going on here.
"Come on, boy," the voice commanded.
What choice did I have? I mounted the stone steps worn with countless centuries of footfalls and spiraled my ways up and up, only a little bit afraid. The tower was very high, and the climbing took me a long time.
At the top was a chamber filled with wonders. I looked at things such as I'd never seen before. I was still young and not, at the time, above thoughts of theft. Larceny seethed in my grubby little soul. I'm sure that Polgara will find that particular admission entertaining.
Near a fire--which burned, I observed, without fuel of any kind--sat a man who seemed most incredibly ancient, but somehow familiar, though I couldn't seem to place him. His beard was long and full and as white as the snow that had so nearly killed me--but his eyes were eternally young. I think it might have been the eyes that seemed so familiar to me. "Well, boy," he said, "hast though decided not to die?"
"Not if it isn't necessary," I said bravely, still cataloging the wonders of the chamber.
"Dost thou require anything?" he asked. "I am unfamiliar with thy kind."
"A little food, perhaps," I replied. "I haven't eaten in two days. And a warm place to sleep, if you wouldn't mind." I thought it might not be a bad idea to stay on the good side of this strange old man, so I hurried on. "I won't be much trouble, Master, and I can make myself useful in payment." It was an artful little speech. I'd learned during my months with the Tolnedrans how to make myself agreeable to people in a position to do me favors.
"Master?" he said, and laughed, a sound so cheerful that it made me almost want to dance. Where had I heard that laugh before? "I am not thy Master, boy," he said. Then he laughed again, and my heart sang with the splendor of his mirth. "Let us see to this thing of food. What dost thou require?"
"A little bread perhaps--not too stale, if it's all right."
"Bread? Only bread? Surely, boy, thy stomach is fit for more than bread. If thou wouldst make thyself useful--as though hast promised--we must nourish thee properly. Consider, boy. Think of all the things thou hast eaten in thy life. What in all the world would most surely satisfy this vast hunger of mine?"
I couldn't even say it. Before my eyes swam the visions of smoking roasts, of fat geese swimming in their own gravy, of heaps of fresh-baked bread and rich, golden butter, of pastries in thick cream, of cheese and dark-brown ale, of fruits and nuts and salt to savor it all. The vision was so real that it even seemed that I could smell it.
And he who sat by the glowing fire that burned, it seemed, air alone, laughed alone, and again my heart sang. "Turn, boy," he said, "and eat thy fill."
I turned, and there on a table, which I had not even seen before, lay everything I had imagined. No wonder I could smell it! A hungry boy doesn't ask where the food comes from--he eats. And so I ate. I ate until my stomach groaned. Through the sound of my eating I could hear the laughter of the aged one beside his fire, and my heart leaped within me at each strangely familiar chuckle.
And when I'd finished and sat drowsing over my plate, he spoke again. "Wilt thou sleep now, boy?"
"A corner, Master," I said. "A little out-of-the-way place by the fire, if it isn't too much trouble."
He pointed. "Sleep there, boy," he said, and all at once I saw a bed that I had no more seen than I had the table--a great bed with huge pillows and comforters of softest down. I smiled my thanks and crept into the bed, and, because I was young and very tired, I fell asleep almost at once without even stopping to think about how very strange all of this had been.
But in my sleep I knew that he who had brought me in out of the storm and fed me and cared for me was watching through the long, snowy night, and I slept even more securely in the comforting warmth of his care.