Read Polgara the sorceress Online

Authors: David Eddings

Polgara the sorceress (page 5)

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And that began my education in ornithology. I met all manner of birds that morning. The helpful lark took me around and introduced me. His rather lyrical assessments of the varied species were surprisingly acute. As I’ve already mentioned, he told me that sparrows are excitable and talky. He characterized robins as oddly aggressive, and then added that they tended to say the same things over and over. Jays scream a lot. Swallows show off. Crows are thieves. Vultures stink. Hummingbirds aren’t really very intelligent. If he’s forced to think about it, the average hummingbird gets so confused that he forgets exactly how to hover in mid-air. Owls aren’t really as wise as they’re reputed to be, and my guide referred to them rather deprecatingly as ‘flying mouse-traps’. Seagulls have a grossly exaggerated notion of their own place in the overall scheme of things. Your average seagull spends a lot of his time pretending to be an eagle. I normally wouldn’t have seen any seagulls in the Vale, but the blustery wind had driven them inland. The assorted waterfowl spent almost as much time swimming as they did flying, and they were very clannish. I didn’t really care that much for ducks and geese. They’re pretty, I suppose, but their voices set my teeth on edge.

The aristocrats of birds are the raptors. The various hawks, depending on their size, have a complicated hierarchy, and standing at the very pinnacle of bird-dom is the eagle.

I communed with the various birds for the rest of the day, and by evening they had grown so accustomed to me that some of them, like my cheeky little sparrow and his mate, actually perched on me. As evening settled over the Vale I promised to return the next day, and my lyric lark accompanied me back to uncle Beldin’s tower.

‘What have you been doing, Pol?’ Beldaran asked curiously after I’d mounted the stairs and rejoined her. Aswas usual when we were talking to each other privately, Beldaran spoke to me in ‘twin’.

‘I met some birds,’ I replied.

‘ “Met”? How do you meet a bird?’

‘You talk to them, Beldaran.’

‘And do they talk back?’ Her look was amused.

‘Yes,’ I answered in an off-hand manner, ‘as a matter of fact, they do.’ If she wanted to be snippy and superior, I could play that game, too.

‘What do they talk about?’ Her curiosity subdued her irritation at my superior reply.

‘Oh, seeds and the like. Birds take a lot of interest in food. They talk about flying, too. They can’t really understand why I can’t fly. Then they talk about their nests. A bird doesn’t really live in his nest, you know. It’s just a place to lay eggs and raise babies.’

‘I’d never thought of that,’ my sister admitted.

‘Neither had I – until they told me about it. A bird doesn’t really need a home, I guess. They also have opinions.’

‘Opinions?’

‘One kind of bird doesn’t really have much use for other kinds of birds. Sparrows don’t like robins, and seagulls don’t like ducks.’

‘How curious,’ Beldaran commented.

‘What are you two babbling about now?’ uncle Beldin demanded, looking up from the scroll he’d been studying.

‘Birds,’ I told him.

He muttered something I won’t repeat here and went back to his study of that scroll.

‘Why don’t you take a bath and change clothes, Pol,’ Beldaran suggested a bit acidly. ‘You’ve got bird-droppings all over you.’

I shrugged. ‘They’ll brush off as soon as they dry.’

She rolled her eyes upward.

I left the tower early the next morning and went to the small storehouse where the twins kept their supplies. The twins are Alorns, and theydolove their beer. One of the major ingredients in beer is wheat, and I was fairly sure they wouldn’t miss a small bag or two. I opened the bin where they kept the wheat and scooped a fair amount intoa couple of canvas bags I’d found hanging on a hook on the back wall of the shed. Then, carrying the fruits of my pilferage, I started back for the Tree.

‘Whither goest thou, sister?’ It was my poetic lark again. It occurs to me that my affinity for the studied formality of Wacite Arendish speech may very well have been born in my conversations with that lark.

‘I’m going back to the Tree,’ I told him.

‘What are those?’ he demanded, stabbing his beak at the two bags I carried.

‘A gift for my new-found friends,’ I said.

‘What is a gift?’

‘You’ll see.’

Birds are sometimes as curious as cats, and my lark badgered me about what was in my bags all the way back to the Tree.

My birds were ecstatic when I opened the bags and spread the wheat around under the Tree, and they came in from miles around to feast. I watched them fondly for a time, and then I climbed up into the Tree and sprawled out on one huge limb to watch my new friends. I got the distinct impression that the Tree approved of what I had done.

I thought about that for quite a long time that morning, but I was still baffled about just exactly how I’d come by this unusual talent.

‘It’s the Tree’s gift to you, Polgara.’ It was mother’s voice, and suddenly everything became clear to me. Of course! Why hadn’tIthought of that?

‘Probably because you weren’t paying attention,’ mother observed.

In the years that followed, the Tree became like a second home to me. I spent my days on my favorite perch with my skinny legs stretched out on the huge limb and my back against the massive trunk. I fed my birds and we talked. We came to know each other better and better, and they brought me information about the weather, forest fires, and occasional travelers passing through the Vale. My family was always carping about my shabby appearance, but my birds didn’t seem to mind.

As those of you who know me can attest, I have anoccasionally sharp tongue. My family was spared all sorts of affronts because of my fondness for the Tree and its feathered inhabitants.

The seasons rolled by, and Beldaran and I grew into an awkward coltishness – all legs and elbows. And then one morning we discovered that we had become women during the night. There was some fairly visible evidence of the fact on our bed-clothing.

‘Are we dying?’ Beldaran asked me in a trembling voice.

‘Tell her to stop that, Polgara!’ mother’s voice came to me sharply. That was something I could never understand. Mother talked to me directly, but she never intruded into Beldaran’s mind. I’m sure there was a reason for it, but mother never got around to explaining.

‘What’s happening, mother?’ I demanded. To be honest about it, I was quite nearly as frightened as my sister was.

‘It’s a natural process, Polgara. It happens to all women.’

‘Make it stop!’

‘No. It has to happen. Tell Beldaran that it’s nothing to get excited about.’

‘Mother says that it’s all right,’ I told my sister.

‘How can it be all right?’

‘Shush. I’m trying to listen to mother.’

‘Don’t you shush me, Polgara!’

‘Then be still.’ I turned my attention inward. ‘You’d better explain this, mother,’ I said. ‘Beldaran’s about ready to fly apart.’ I didn’t really think it was necessary to admit thatmyseams were starting to come undone as well.

Then mother gave us a somewhat clinical explanation for the bloodstains on our bedding, and I passed the information on to my distraught sister.

‘Is it going to go on forever now?’ Beldaran asked me in a trembling voice.

‘No, only for a few days. Mother says to get used to it, because it’ll happen every month.’

‘Every month?’ Beldaran sounded outraged.

‘So she says.’ I raised up in bed and looked across the room toward Uncle Beldin’s bed – the place where all the snoring was coming from. ‘Let’s get this cleaned up while he’s still asleep,’ I suggested.

‘Oh, dear Gods, yes!’ she agreed fervently. ‘I’ddieif he found out about this.’

I’m fairly sure that our misshapen uncle was aware of what was happening, but we never got around to discussing it, for some reason.

Uncle Beldin has theorized about when the members of my extended family develop what father calls ‘talent’, and he’s concluded that it emerges with the onset of puberty.Imay have had something to do with that conclusion. I think I was about twelve or so. It was ‘that time of the month’ for Beldaran and me, and my sister was feeling mopey. I, on the other hand, was irritable. It was all so inconvenient! Mother had mentioned the fact that ‘something might happen’ now that Beldaran and I had reached a certain level of maturity, but she was a little vague about it. Evidently, it’s sort of necessary that our first venture into the exercise of our ‘talent’ be spontaneous. Don’t ask me why, because I haven’t got the faintest notion of a reasonable explanation for the custom.

As I remember the circumstances of that first incident, I was dragging a large bag of wheat down to the Tree to feed my birds. I was muttering to myself about that. Over the years my birds had come to depend on me, and they were not above taking advantage of my generosity. Given half a chance, birds, like all other creatures, can be lazy. I didn’t mind feeding them, but it seemed that I was spending more and more time hauling sacks of wheat from the twins’ tower to the Tree.

When I reached the Tree, they were all clamoring to be fed, and that irritated me all the more. As far as I know, not one single bird has ever learned how to say ‘thank you’.

There were whole flocks of them by now, and they cleaned up my daily offering in short order. Then they started screeching for more.

I was seated on my favorite perch, and the shrill importunings of the birds made me evenmoreirritable. If there were onlysomeway I could have an inexhaustible supply of seed on hand to keep them quiet.

The jays were being particularly offensive. There’s something about a jay’s squawking that cuts directly into me.Finally, driven beyond my endurance, I burst out. ‘More seeds!’ I half-shouted.

And suddenly, there they were – heaps and heaps of them! I was stunned. Even the birds seemed startled. I, on the other hand, felt absolutely exhausted.

Father has always used the phrase ‘the Will and the Word’ to describe what we do, but I think that’s a little limited.Myexperience seems to indicate that ‘theWishand the Word’ works just as well.

Someday he and I’ll have to talk about that.

As is usually the case, my first experiment in this field made a lot of noise. I hadn’t even finished my self-congratulation when a blue-banded hawk and two doves came swooping in. Now, hawks and doves don’t normally flock together – except when the hawk is hungry – so I immediately had some suspicions. The three of them settled on my limb, and then they blurred, changing form before my very eyes.

‘Seeds, Polgara?’ Beltira said mildly. ‘Seeds?’

The birds were hungry,’ I said. What a silly excuse for a miraclethatwas!

‘Precocious, isn’t she?’ Belkira murmured to uncle Beldin.

‘We should probably have expected it,’ Beldin grunted. ‘Pol never doesanythingin the normal way.’

‘Will I be able to do that some day?’ I asked the twins.

‘Do what, Pol?’ Belkira asked gently.

‘What you just did – change myself into a bird and back?’

‘Probably, yes.’

‘Well now,’ I said as a whole new world of possibilities opened before my eyes. ‘Will Beldaran be able to do it too?’

Their expressions seemed to grow a bit evasive at that question. ‘No more of this, Pol,’ uncle Beldin said sternly, ‘not until we’ve explained a few things to you. This isverydangerous.’

‘Dangerous?’ That startled me.

‘You can do almost anything you put your mind to, Pol,’ Beltira explained, ‘but youcan’tuncreate things. Don’teversay, “Be not”. If you do, the force you’ve unleashed will recoil back on you, andyou’llbe the one who’s destroyed.’

‘Why would I want to destroy anything?’

‘It’ll happen,’ Beldin assured me in that growling voice of his. ‘You’re almost as bad-tempered as I am, and sooner or later something will irritate you to the point that you’ll want to make it go away – to destroy it – and that’ll kill you.’

‘Kill?’

‘And more than kill. The purpose of the universe is to create things. She won’t let you come along behind her and undo her work.’

‘Wouldn’t that also apply to making things?’

‘Whatever gave you that idea?’

‘If unmaking things is forbidden, it seems logical that making them would be too.’

‘Making things is all right,’ Beldin assured me. ‘You just made about a half-ton of birdseed and you’re still here, but don’t ever try to erase what you’ve done. If it’s not right, that’s just too bad. Once it’s been made, you’re stuck with it.’

That hardly seems fair,’ I protested.

‘Did you really expect life to be fair to you, Pol?’ He replied.

‘But if I make it, it’s mine, isn’t it? I should be able to do anything I want with it, shouldn’t I?’

‘That’s not the way it works, Pol,’ Beltira told me. ‘Don’t experiment with it. We love you too much to lose you.’

‘What else is it that I’m not supposed to do?’

‘Don’t attempt the impossible,’ Belkira said. ‘Once you’ve committed your will to something, youhaveto go through with it. You can’t turn the will off once you’ve unleashed it. It’ll keep drawing more and more out of you to try to get the job done, and it’ll eventually take so much out of you that your heart will stop, and then you’ll die.’

‘How am I supposed to know what’s possible and what isn’t?’

‘Come to one ofusbefore you start,’ Beltira said. ‘Talk it over with us and we’ll let you know if it’s all right.’

‘Nobodytells me what to do!’ I flared.

‘Do you want to die?’ Beldin demanded bluntly.

‘Of course not.’

‘Then do as you’re told,’ he growled. ‘No experimenting on your own. Don’t doanythingthis way without consulting with one of us first. Don’t try to pick up a mountain range or stop the sun. We’re trying to protect you, Pol. Don’t be difficult.’