Kail, the Rivan Warder, objected strenuously when King Belgarion told him that he and his queen planned to make the journey to the northern end of the Vale of Aldur unattended, but Garion uncharacteristically put his foot down. "It's a family gathering, Kail. Ce'Nedra and I don't need a cluster of servants under foot. They'd just be in the way."
"But it's dangerous, Your Majesty."
"I rather doubt that anything'll turn up that I can't handle, old friend," Garion told him. "We're going alone." The Rivan Queen was a bit startled by the firmness in Garion's voice.
Then there was the argument about fur. Queen Ce'Nedra was Tolnedran by birth and Dryad by heritage. Those backgrounds are both southern, and the notion of wearing animal skins made Ce'Nedra's flesh creep. Garion, however, was at least partially Alorn, and he'd traveled extensively in the north in the wintertime. "You're going to wear fur, Ce'Nedra," he adamantly told his tiny wife, "because if you don't we aren't going anywhere until the weather warms up." Garion seldom delivered ultimatums to her, and Ce'Nedra was shrewd enough not to argue about the matter any further. She obediently dressed herself in Alorn fur garments, spoke at some length with the nurse who would oversee the royal children during her absence, and then she and her husband left the Isle of the Winds aboard the disreputable Captain Greldik's dubious ship on the morning tide.
They purchased horses and supplies in Camaar and set out toward the east. The regularly spaced Tolnedran hostels along the highway to Muros provided adequate lodgings each night, but after Muros, they were largely on their own. The Rivan King, however, had spent a great deal of time living out in the open, and his little wife was forced to concede that he was adequate when the time came to set up camp.
The Rivan Queen was realistic enough to know just how ridiculous she looked while gathering firewood in those camps. The bulky fur garments she wore gave her a roly-poly appearance, her flaming red hair streamed down her back, and because of her size she could only carry a few sticks at a time. The unwanted image of a red-haired beaver trudging through the snow came to her quite often.
The snow was deep in the Sendarian mountains, and it seemed to Ce'Nedra that her feet would never be warm again. She could not give her husband the satisfaction of admitting that, however. This trek was her idea, after all, and she'd have sooner died than admit that it might have been a mistake.
Ce'Nedra was like that sometimes.
It was snowing lightly and was bitterly cold when they came down out of the mountains and rode south across the snowy plains of Algaria. Although it definitely went against her grain to confess it, even privately, Ce'Nedra was actually glad that her husband had been so insistent about dressing warmly.
And then, as a chill evening was settling over southern Algaria and lowering clouds were spitting tiny pellets of snow, they topped a rise and saw the little valley on the northern edge of the Vale of Aldur where Poledra's cottage and the surrounding outbuildings lay. The cottage had been there for eons, of course, but the barns and sheds were Durnik's additions, and they gave the place the appearance of a Sendarian farmstead.
Ce'Nedra wasn't really interested in comparative architecture at that point, however. All she really wanted to do was to get out of the cold. "Do they know that we're coming?" she asked her husband, her breath steaming in the biting cold.
"Yes," Garion replied. "I told Aunt Pol that we were on the way a couple of days ago."
"Sometimes you're a very useful fellow to have around, Your Majesty," Ce'Nedra smiled.
"Your Majesty is too kind." His reply was a bit flippant.
"Oh, Garion." They both laughed as their weary mounts trudged down the hill.
The cottage--they'd always called it that, though in actuality it was growing to be a fairly large house--nestled at the side of an icebound little stream, and the snow was piled up to the bottom of the windows. There was a kind of golden invitation about the way the soft lamplight spilled out across the snow, and the column of blue smoke from the central chimney rose straight up toward the threatening sky. The Rivan Queen definitely approved of that indication that warmth and comfort were no more than a quarter mile away.
And then the low door opened, and Durnik stepped out into the dooryard. "What kept you?" he called up to them. "We were expecting you along about noon."
"We hit some deep snow," Garion called back. "It was slow going there for a while."
"Hurry on down, Garion. Let's get Ce'Nedra in out of this cold." What a dear man he was!
Ce'Nedra and her husband rode into the snowy dooryard and swung down from their saddles.
"Go inside, both of you," Durnik instructed. "I'll see to your horses."
"I'll help with that," Garion offered. "I can unsaddle a horse almost as well as you can, and I need to stretch my legs anyway." He took Ce'Nedra by the arm and guided her to the doorway. "I'll be right back, Aunt Pol," he called inside. "I want to help Durnik with the horses."
"As you wish, dear," the Lady Polgara replied. Her voice was rich and filled with love. "Come in here, Ce'Nedra. Let's get you warm."
The Rivan Queen almost ran inside, hurled herself into the arms of Polgara the Sorceress, and kissed her soundly.
"Your nose is cold, Ce'Nedra," Polgara observed.
"You should feel my feet, Aunt Pol," Ce'Nedra replied with a little laugh. "How can you stand the winters here?"
"I grew up here, dear, remember? I'm used to the weather."
Ce'Nedra looked around. "Where are the twins?"
"They're down for their afternoon nap. We'll get them up for supper. Let's get you out of those furs and over to the fireplace. As soon as you warm up a little, I've got water heating, and you can have a nice hot bath."
"Oh, yes!" the Rivan Queen replied fervently.
Part of the difficulty with Alorn fur garments lies in the fact that they don't have buttons, so they're customarily tied on. Undoing frozen knots can be quite a chore, particularly if one's fingers are stiff with cold. And so it was that Ce'Nedra was almost forced simply to stand in the center of the room with her arms outstretched while Polgara removed her outer garments. Then, once the furs were off, the Rivan Queen went to the fireplace and stretched her hands out to the crackling flames.
"Not too close, dear," Polgara warned. "Don't burn yourself. How does a nice hot cup of tea sound?"
After Ce'Nedra had drunk her tea and soaked in a tub of steaming water for about a halfhour, she actually began to feel warm again. Then she dressed in a plain gown and returned to the kitchen to help feed the twins. Polgara's children were a year old now, and they'd begun to walk--although not very well. They also seemed to have some difficulty managing their spoons, and quite a bit of their supper ended up on the floor. The twins had flaxen, curly hair, and they were absolutely adorable. Their vocabulary was very limited--at least in any language Ce'Nedra could understand. They talked to each other extensively in some strange tongue, however.
"They're speaking 'twin,'" Polgara explained. "It's not uncommon. Each set of twins develops its own private language. Beldaran and I spoke to each other in 'twin' until we were about five. It used to drive poor Uncle Beldin wild."
Ce'Nedra looked around. "Where are Garion and Durnik?"
"Durnik's made some more improvements," Polgara replied. "I'd imagine he's showing them off. He's added several rooms at the back of the cottage, so at least you and Garion won't have to sleep in the loft." She carefully wiped the chin of one of the twins. "Messy person." she chided gently. The child giggled. "Now, then, what's this all about, Ce'Nedra? Why did you make this trip in the dead of winter?"
"Have you read Belgarath's story yet?" Ce'Nedra asked.
"Yes. It was characteristically long-winded, I thought."
"You won't get any argument from me about that. How could he possibly have written that much down in under a year?"
"Father has certain advantages, Ce'Nedra. If he'd actually had to write it, it'd probably have taken him much, much longer."
"Maybe that's why he left so many things out."
"I don't exactly follow you, dear." Polgara gently wiped the face of the second twin and then set them both down on the floor.
"For someone who pretends to be a professional storyteller, he certainly did a third-rate job."
"He more or less covered everything that happened, I thought."
"There are some awfully large gaps in that story, Aunt Pol."
"Father is seven thousand years old, Ce'Nedra. In that long a time there were bound to be periods when nothing was happening."
"He didn't go into anything that happened to you, though. He didn't say very much about those years you spent at Vo Wacune or what you did in Gar og Nadrak or any of those other places. I want to know what you did."
"What on earth for?"
"I want the whole story, Aunt Pol. He left so much out."
"You're as bad as Garion was. He always used to badger my father for more details every time the old wolf told him a story." Polgara broke off abruptly. "Away from the fireplace!" she said sharply to the twins.
They giggled, but they did as they were told. Ce'Nedra gathered that it was a game of sorts. "Anyway," she picked up the thread of her thought. "Belgarath sent some letters when he had those last few chapters delivered to Riva. The letter he sent to me is what gave me the idea of coming here to talk with you. First he accused us all of getting together and bullying him into writing the history. He said that he knew there were gaps in the story, but he suggested that you could fill them in."
"How typical," Polgara murmured. "My father's an expert at starting things and then tricking others into finishing them for him. Well, this time he's out of luck. Forget it, Ce'Nedra. I don't pretend to be a storyteller, and I've got better things to do with my time."
"No buts, dear. Now, go call Garion and Durnik in for supper."
Ce'Nedra was shrewd enough not to raise the issue again, but a way around Polgara's refusal had already begun to form in her devious little mind.
"Garion, dear," she said when she and her husband were in bed later that night in the warm and comfortable darkness.
"You can reach out and talk to your grandfather, can't you?"
"I suppose so. Why?"
"Wouldn't you like to see him--and your grandmother? I mean, we're this close anyway, and it's not really very far from Belgarath's tower to the cottage here, and they'd be terribly disappointed if we let this opportunity for a visit slip by, wouldn't they?"
"What are you up to, Ce'Nedra?"
"Why must I always be 'up to' something?"
"You usually are."
"That's not very nice, Garion. Isn't it just possible that all I want is a family reunion?"
"I'm sorry. Maybe I misjudged you."
"Well--actually, your aunt Pol's being a little stubborn about this. I'm going to need some help convincing her to write her story."
"Grandfather won't help you. He already told you that in his letter."
"I'm not talking about help from him. I want to talk to Poledra. Aunt Pol will listen to her mother. Please Garion." She said it in her most winsome and appealing tone.
"All right, I'll talk it over with Durnik and see what he thinks."
"Why don't you let me talk with Durnik? I'm sure I can persuade him that it's a good idea." She nuzzled at her husband's neck affectionately. "I'm nice and warm now, Garion," she said invitingly.
"Yes, I noticed that."
"Are you really very sleepy?"
"Not that sleepy, dear." and he turned to embrace her.
This wouldn't be terribly difficult, Ce'Nedra decided. She was an expert at getting her own way, and she was confident that she could get Garion and Durnik to agree with her plan. Poledra, on the other hand, might take a little more work.
Garion, as he usually did, slipped quietly out of bed before it was even light. The Rivan King had grown up on a farm, and farmers habitually rise early. Ce'Nedra decided that it might not be a bad idea to keep track of him for the next couple of days. A chance conversation between her husband and Durnik might disrupt her plan--Ce'Nedra deliberately avoided the word "scheme." So she touched the fingertips of her right hand to Beldaran's amulet and searched with her mind for Garion.
"Oh, hush." It was Durnik's voice, and it was peculiarly gentle. "It's only me. Go back to sleep. I'll feed you later."
There was a muttering, some soft, grumbling sounds--birds of some kind, Ce'Nedra judged. Then they clucked a bit and settled back down again.
"Do you always talk to them that way?" It was Garion's voice.
"It keeps them from getting excited and flying off in the dark and hurting themselves," Durnik replied. "They insist on roosting in that tree right here in the dooryard, and I have to pass that tree every morning. They know me now, so I can usually persuade them to settle down again. Birds pick these things up fairly quickly. The deer take a little longer, and the rabbits are timid and very flighty."
"You feed them all, don't you, Durnik?"
"They live here, too, Garion, and this farm produces more food than Pol and I and the babies can possibly eat. Besides, that's one of the reasons we're here, isn't it? The birds and the deer and the rabbits can look out for themselves in the summer, but winter's a lean time, so I help them out a bit."
He was such a good man! Ce'Nedra's eyes almost filled with tears. Polgara could have chosen any king or emperor for a husband and lived in a palace. She'd chosen a simple country blacksmith instead and lived on this remote farmstead. Now Ce'Nedra knew why.
As it turned out, Durnik was fairly easy to manipulate. Ce'Nedra's suggestion of "a little family reunion, since we're all here anyway" brought him over to her side almost immediately. Durnik was too innocent to suspect ulterior motives in others. It was so easy that Ce'Nedra was almost ashamed of herself.
Garion was not nearly so innocent. He had lived with his willful little Dryad wife for quite a while, after all. With both Durnik and Ce'Nedra urging the reunion, though, he didn't really have any choice. He did cast a few suspicious looks in Ce'Nedra's direction before he sent his thought out to his grandfather, however.
Belgarath and Poledra arrived a day or so later, and the old man's expression when he greeted the Rivan Queen clearly indicated that he knew that she was "up to something." That didn't concern Ce'Nedra very much, though. What she was "up to" didn't involve Belgarath. She concentrated on Poledra instead.
It was several days before Ce'Nedra had the chance to get her husband's grandmother off to one side for some serious talk, family reunions being what they are and all. Polgara's twins, of course, were the center of everyone's attention. The twins enjoyed that, and Ce'Nedra was patient. The right moment would come, she was sure of that, so she simply enjoyed the closeness of the peculiar family into which she had married and bided her time.
There was a strange quality about the tawny-haired Poledra that made Ce'Nedra a little hesitant about approaching her. Ce'Nedra had read Belgarath's story several times, and she was fully aware of Poledra's peculiar background. She frequently caught herself studying Belgarath's wife, looking for wolfish traits. They were probably there, but Ce'Nedra was Tolnedran, and wolves are not so common in Tolnedra that she'd have recognized the traits even if they'd been more obvious. The thing that disturbed Ce'Nedra the most was the disconcertingly direct way Poledra had of looking at people. Cyradis had called Poledra "the Woman Who Watches," and the Seeress of Kell had been right on that score. Poledra's golden eyes seemed quite capable of seeing through all of Ce'Nedra's defenses and concealments into that secret place where the Rivan Queen stored her motives. The tiny queen really didn't want anybody snooping around in there.
Finally she screwed up her courage one morning and approached Polgara's golden-eyed mother. Garion, Belgarath, and Durnik were outside, conducting one of their endless surveys of the farmstead, and Polgara was bathing the twins. "I need to ask a favor of you, Lady Poledra." Ce'Nedra was not certain of the proper form of address, so she fell back on a somewhat inappropriate usage.
"I rather suspected you might," Poledra replied quite calmly. "You went to a great deal of trouble to arrange this gathering, and you've been watching me for the last several days. I was fairly certain that you'd eventually get to the point. What's bothering you, child?"
"Well--'bother' might not be the exact term," Ce'Nedra amended, averting her eyes slightly. Those penetrating golden eyes made her nervous. "There's something I need from Polgara, and she's being stubborn about it. You know how she can be sometimes."
"Yes. It's a family trait."
"I didn't say that very well, did I?" Ce'Nedra apologized. "I love her, of course, but--"
"What do you want from her? Don't run in circles, Ce'Nedra. Get to the point."
Ce'Nedra was not accustomed to being addressed so bluntly, but she chose not to take offense. She sidetracked slightly instead. "Have you read the history book your husband just finished writing?" she asked.
"I don't read often," Poledra replied. "It's hard on the eyes. Besides, he didn't write it. He spoke it, and it just appeared on paper while he was talking. He cheats sometimes. I heard most of it while he was talking. It wasn't too inaccurate."
"That's what I'm getting at. He left quite a bit out, didn't he?"
"In places, yes."
"But your daughter could fill in those places, couldn't she?"
"Why would she want to do that?"
"To complete the story."
"Stories aren't really that important, Ce'Nedra. I've noticed that menfolk tell stories over their alecups to fill in the hours between supper and bedtime." Poledra's look was amused. "Did you really come all this way just to get a story? Couldn't you find anything better to do--have another baby, or something?"
Ce'Nedra changed direction again. "Oh, the story isn't for me," she lied. "It's for my son. Someday he'll be the Rivan King."
"Yes, so I understand. I've been told about that custom. Peculiar customs should usually be observed, though."
Ce'Nedra seized that advantage. "My son Geran will be a leader someday, and he needs to know where he is and how he got there. The story will tell him that."
Poledra shrugged. "Why's it so important? What happened yesterday--or a thousand years ago--isn't going to change what happens tomorrow, is it?"
"It might. Belgarath's story hinted at the fact that things were going on that I didn't even know were happening. There are two worlds out there running side by side. If Geran doesn't know about both of them, he'll make mistakes. That's why I need Polgara's story--for the sake of my children--and hers." Ce'Nedra bit off the term "puppies" at the last instant. "Isn't caring for our children the most important thing we do?" Then a thought came to her. "You could tell the story, you know."
"Wolves don't tell stories, Ce'Nedra. We're too busy being wolves."
"Then it's going to be up to Polgara. My son will need the rest of the story. The well-being of his people may depend on his knowing. I don't know what Aldur has planned for Polgara's children, but it's very likely that they'll need the story as well." Ce'Nedra was quite proud of that little twist. The appeal to Poledra's innate sense of pack loyalty might very well have been the one thing to turn the trick. "Will you help me persuade Polgara?"
Poledra's golden eyes grew thoughtful. "I'll think about it," she said.
That wasn't exactly the firm commitment Ce'Nedra had been hoping for, but Polgara brought out the twins at that point, so the Rivan Queen wasn't able to pursue the matter further.
When Ce'Nedra awoke the following morning, Garion was already gone, as usual. Also, as usual, he'd neglected to pile more wood on the fire, and the room was decidedly cold. Shivering, Ce'Nedra got out of bed and went looking for warmth. She reasoned that if Garion was up, Durnik would be as well, so she went directly to Polgara's bedroom and tapped lightly on the door.
"Yes, Ce'Nedra," Aunt Pol replied from inside. She always seemed to know who was at her door.
"May I come in?" Ce'Nedra asked. "Garion let the fire go out, and it's freezing in our room."
"Of course, dear," Aunt Pol replied.
Ce'Nedra opened the door, hurried to the bed, and crawled under the covers with Aunt Pol and the babies. "He always does that," she complained. "He's so busy trying to sneak away that he doesn't even think about putting more wood on the fire."
"He doesn't want to wake you, dear."
"I can always go back to sleep if I want, and I hate waking up in a cold room." She gathered one of the twins in her arms and cuddled the little child close. Ce'Nedra was a mother herself, so she was very good at cuddling. She realized how much she missed her own children. She began to have some second thoughts about the wisdom of a journey in the dead of winter based on nothing more than a whim.
The Rivan Queen and her husband's aunt talked about various unimportant things for a while, and then the door opened and Polgara's mother came in carrying a tray with three cups of steaming tea on it. "Good morning, Mother," Polgara said.
"Not too bad," Poledra replied, "A little cold, though." Poledra was so literal sometimes.
"What are the menfolk up to?" Aunt Pol asked.
"Garion and Durnik are out feeding the birds and animals," Poledra said. "He's still asleep." Poledra almost never spoke her husband's name. She set her tray down on the small table near the fireplace. "I think we need to talk," she said. She came to the bed, took up the twins, and deposited them back in the curiously constructed double cradle that Durnik had built for his children. Then she handed Polgara and Ce'Nedra each a cup of tea, took the remaining one up herself, and sat in the chair by the fire.
"What's so important, Mother?" Polgara asked.
Poledra pointed on finger at Ce'Nedra. "She talked with me yesterday," she said, "and I think she's got a point we should consider."
She said that her son--and his sons--will be leading the Rivans someday, and there are things they'll need to know. The well-being of the Rivans might depend on their knowing. That's a leader's first responsibility, isn't it?--whether he's leading people or wolves."
Ce'Nedra silently gloated. Her thrown-together arguments the previous morning had evidently brought Poledra over to her side.
"Where are we going with this, Mother?" Polgara asked.
"You have a responsibility as well, Polgara--to the young," her mother replied. "That's our first duty. The Master set you a task, and you haven't finished it yet."
Polgara gave Ce'Nedra a hard look.
"I didn't do anything, Aunt Pol," Ce'Nedra said with feigned innocence. "I just asked for your mother's advice, that's all."
The two sets of eyes--one set tawny yellow, the other deep blue--fixed themselves on her.
Ce'Nedra actually blushed.
"She wants something, Polgara," Poledra said. "Give it to her. It won't hurt you, and it's still a part of the task you freely accepted. We wolves rely on our instincts; humans need instruction. You've spent most of your life caring for the young--and instructing them--so you know what's required. Just set down what really happened and be done with it."
"Not all of it, certainly!" Polgara sounded shocked. "Some of those things were too private."
Poledra actually laughed. "You still have a great deal to learn, my daughter. Don't you know by now that there's no such thing as privacy among wolves? We share everything. The information may be useful to the leader of the Rivans someday--and to your own children as well--so let's be sure they have what they need. Just do it, Polgara. You know better than to argue with me."
Polgara sighed. "Yes, Mother," she replied submissively.
Ce'Nedra underwent a kind of epiphany at that point, and she didn't entirely like it. Polgara the Sorceress was the preeminent woman in the world. She had titles beyond counting, and the whole world bowed to her, but in some mysterious way, she was still a wolf, and when the dominant female--her mother in this case--gave an order, she automatically obeyed. Ce'Nedra's own heritage was mixed--part Borune and part Dryad. She'd argued extensively with her father, the Emperor of Tolnedra, but when Xantha, Queen of the Dryads, spoke, Ce'Nedra might complain a bit, but she instinctively obeyed. It was built into her. She began to look at Polgara in a slightly different way, and, by extension, at herself also in a new fashion.
"It's a start," Poledra said cryptically. "Now then, daughter," she said to Polgara, "it won't be all that difficult. I'll talk with him, and he'll show you how to do it without all that foolishness with quill pens and ink. It's your obligation, so stop complaining."
"It shall be as my mother wishes," Polgara replied.
"Well, then," Poledra said, "now that that's settled, would you ladies like to have another cup of tea?"
Polgara and Ce'Nedra exchanged a quick glance. "I suppose we might as well," Polgara sighed.
Use of this excerpt from Polgara the Sorceress 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 ©1997 by David and Leigh Eddings.