Read Polgara the sorceress Online

Authors: David Eddings

Polgara the sorceress (page 6)

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‘Is there anything else?’ I was a little sullen at that point.

‘You’re very noisy,’ Belkira said bluntly.

‘What do you mean, “noisy”?’

‘When you do something this way, it makes a sound we can hear. When you made all that birdseed, it sounded like a thunderclap. Always remember that we’re not the only ones in the world with this particular gift. There’ll be times when you won’t want to announce the fact that you’re around. Here, I’ll show you.’

There was a large rock not far from the Tree, and uncle Belkira looked at it and frowned slightly. Then the rock seemed to vanish, and it instantly reappeared about a hundred yards away.

It wasn’t exactly a noise. Ifeltit more than I heard it, but it still seemed to rattle my teeth.

‘Now do you see what I mean?’ Belkira asked me.

‘Yes. That’s quite a sound, isn’t it?’

‘I’m glad you enjoyed it.’

They went on piling restrictions on me for quite some time. ‘Is that all?’ I asked finally. They were beginning to make me tired.

‘There’ll be more, Pol,’ Beltira said. “Those are just the things you need to know right now. Like it or not, your education’s just begun. You’ve got to learn to control this gift. Study very hard, Pol. Your life probably depends on it.’

‘Just smile and agree with them, Polgara,’ mother’s voice advised me. ‘I’ll take care of your education myself. Smile and nod and keep the peace when they try to instruct you, Pol. Don’t upset them by doing anything unusual while they’re around.’

‘Whatever you say, mother,’ I agreed.

And that’s how Ireallygot my education. My uncles were frequently startled by just how fast I picked things up. They no sooner mentioned a particular feat than I did it – flawlessly. I’m sure they all thought they had a budding – butvery dirty – genius on their hands. The truth of the matter was that mother had already taught me those rudimentary tricks. My mind and mother’s mind had been linked since before I was born, and so she was in a much better position to gauge the extent of my understanding. This made her a far better teacher than my uncles. It was about then that uncle Beldin left on some mysterious errand, and so my education fell on the twins’ shoulders – at least they thought it did. In actuality, mother taught me most of what I know.

I naturally told my sister about what had happened. Beldaran and I didn’t really have any secrets from each other.

Her face became rather wistful. ‘What was it like?’ she asked me.

‘I’ll show you how,’ I told her. Then you can find out for yourself.’

She sighed. ‘No, Pol,’ she replied. ‘Mother told me not to.’

‘Told? You mean she’s finally talking to you?’

‘Not when I’m awake,’ Beldaran explained. ‘Her voice comes to me when I’m dreaming.’

‘That’s a terribly cumbersome way to do it.’

‘I know, but there’s a reason for it. She told me that you’re supposed todothings. I’m just supposed tobe.’

To be what?’

‘She hasn’t told me yet. She’ll probably get around to it one of these days.’

And that sent me away muttering to myself.

Mother told me about several of the things I might be capable of doing, and I tried them all. Translocation was a lot of fun, actually, and it taught me how to muffle the noise. I spent whole days bouncing rocks here and there about the Vale.

There were many tricks mother explained to me that I wasn’t able to practice, since they required the presence of other people, and aside from the twins and Beldaran, nobody else was around. Mother rather sternly told menotto experiment with Beldaran.

What my uncles chose to call my ‘education’ took me away from my Tree and my birds for extended periods oftime, and I didn’t like that very much. I already knew about most of what they were telling me anyway, so it was all very tedious and monotonous for me.

‘Keep your temper, Polgara,’ mother told me on one occasion when I was right on the verge of an outburst.

‘But this is all so boring!’ I protested.

‘Think about something else, then.’

‘What should I think about?’

‘Have the twins teach you how to cook,’ she suggested. ‘Humans like to stick their food in a fire before they eat it. It’s always seemed like a waste of time to me, but that’s the way they are.’

And so it was that I started to get two educations instead of one. I learned all about translocation and about spices at almost the same time. One of the peculiarities of our gift is the fact that imagination plays a very large part in it, and I soon found that I could imagine what a given spice would add to whatever dish I was preparing. In this particular regard I soon even outstripped the twins.Theymeasured things rather meticulously.Iseasoned food by instinct – a pinch, a dollop, or a handful of any spice always seemed to work out just right.

‘That’s too much sage, Pol,’ Beltira protested when I dug my hand into one of his spice-pots.

‘Wait, uncle,’ I told him. ‘Don’t criticize my cooking until you’ve tasted it.’

And, as usual, the stew I was preparing came out perfect.

Beltira was a little sullen about that, as I recall.

And then there came a very important day in my life. It was the day – night actually – when mother revealed the secret of changing shape.

‘It’s really quite simple, Polgara,’ she told me. ‘All you really have to do is form the image of the alternative shape in your mind and then fit yourself into it.’

Mother’s idea of ‘simple’ and mine were miles apart, however.

‘The tail-feathers are too short,’ she said critically after my third attempt. ‘Try it again.’

It took mehoursto get the imagined shape right. I was almost on the verge of giving up entirely. If I got the tailright, the beak was wrong – or the talons. Then the wing-feathers weren’t soft enough. Then the chest wasn’t strong enough. Then the eyes were too small. I was right at the edge of abandoning the whole notion when mother said, ‘That looks closer. Now just let yourself flow into it.’ Mother’s ability to see into my mind made her the best teacher I could possibly have had.

As I started to slip myself into the image I’d formed, I felt as if my body had turned into something almost liquid – like honey. I literally seeped into that imaginary shape.

And then it was done. I was a snowy owl. Once again, mother’s intimate contact with my mind simplified things enormously. There are far too many things involved in flying for anyone to pick it up immediately, so mother quite simply instilled all those minuscule shifts and dexterity in my mind. I thrust with my soft wings, and I was immediately airborne. I circled a few times, learning with every silent sweep of my wings, and those circles grew inexorably wider.

There’s an ecstasy to flying that I won’t even try to describe. By the time dawn began to stain the eastern horizon, I was a competent bird, and my mind was filled with a joy I’d never known before.

‘You’d better go back to the tower, Pol,’ mother advised. ‘Owls aren’t usually flying in the daytime.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘Yes. Let’s not give our little secret away just yet. You’ll have to change to your own form as well.’

‘Mother!’ I protested vehemently.

‘We can play again tomorrow night, Pol. Now go home and change back before anyone wakes up.’

That didn’t make metoohappy, but I did as I was told.

It was not long after that that Beldaran took me to one side. ‘Uncle Beldin’s bringing father back to the Vale,’ she told me.

‘Oh? How do you know that?’

‘Mother told me – in a dream.’

‘A dream?’ That startled me.

‘She always talks to me in my dreams. I told you about that already.’

I decided not to make an issue of it, but I reminded myself to have a talk with mother about it. She always came tomewhen I was awake, but for some reason she spoke to my sister in the hazy world of dreams. I wondered why there was such a difference. Ialsowondered why mother had told Beldaran about our vagrant father’s homecoming and hadn’t bothered to letmeknow about it.

It was early summer when uncle Beldin finally brought father home. Over the course of the years since father had left the Vale, uncle Beldin had kept track of him and had reported on his various escapades, so I was not justtooexcited about his return. The idea of admitting that a beer-soaked lecher was my father didn’t appeal to me all that much.

He didn’tlooktoo bad when he came up the stairs to the top of Beldin’s tower, but I knew that appearances could be deceiving.

‘Father!’ Beldaran exclaimed, rushing across the floor to embrace him. Forgiveness is a virtue, I suppose, but sometimes Beldaran carried it to extremes.

I did something that wasn’t very nice at that point. My only excuse was that I didn’t want father to get the mistaken impression that his homecoming was a cause for universal rejoicing. I didn’tquitehate him, but I definitely didn’t like him. ‘Well, Old Wolf,’ I said in as insulting a tone as I could manage, ‘I see you’ve finally decided to come back to the scene of the crime.’

Chapter 3

Then I proceeded to give my father a piece of my mind – several pieces, actually. I told him – at length – precisely what I thought of him, since I didn’t want him to mistakenly believe that Beldaran’s sugary display of sweetness and light was going to be universal. Ialsowanted to assert my independence, and I’m fairly sure I gotthatpoint across to him. It wasn’t really very attractive, but I was only thirteen at the time, so I still had a few rough edges.

All right, let’s get something out in the open right here and now. I’m no saint, and I never pretended to be. I’ve been occasionally referred to as ‘Holy Polgara’, and that’s an absolute absurdity. In all probability the only people who’ll really understand my feelings as a child are those who are twins themselves. Beldaran was the absolute center of my life, and she had been since before we were born. Beldaran wasmine, and my jealousy and resentment knew no bounds when father ‘usurped’ her affection. Beldaran and her every thought belonged tome, and he stole her! My snide comment about the ‘scene of the crime’ started something that went on for eons. I’d spend hours polishing those snippy little comments, and I treasured each and every one of them.

Many of you may have noticed that the relationship between me and my father is somewhat adversarial. I snipe at him, and he winces. That started when I was thirteen years old, and it didn’t take long for it to turn into a habit that’s so deeply engrained in me that I do it automatically now.

One other thing as well. Those who knew Beldaran and me when we were children have always assumed that I was the dominant twin, the one who took the lead in all twinly matters. In actuality, however, Beldaran was dominant. I lived almost entirely for her approval, and in someways I still do. There was a serene quality about Beldaran that I could never match. Perhaps it was because mother had instilled Beldaran’s purpose in her mind before we were ever born. Beldaranknewwhere she was going, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion ofmydestination. She had a certainty about her I could never match.

Father endured my ill-tempered diatribe with a calm grace that irritated me all the more. I finally even lapsed into some of the more colorful aspects of uncle Beldin’s vocabulary to stress my discontent – not so much because I enjoyed profanity, but more to see if I could get some kind of reaction out of father. I was just a little miffed by his calm indifference to my sharpest digs.

Then in the most off-hand way imaginable, father casually announced that my sister and I would be moving into his tower to live with him.

My language deteriorated noticeably at that point.

After father had left uncle Beldin’s tower, Beldaran and I spoke at some length in ‘twin’.

‘If that idiot thinks for one minute that we’re going to move in with him, he’s in for a very nasty surprise,’ I declared.

‘He is our father, Polgara,’ Beldaran pointed out.

‘That’s notmyfault.’

‘We must obey him.’

‘Have you lost your mind?’

‘No, as a matter of fact, I haven’t.’ She looked around uncle Beldin’s tower. ‘I suppose we’d better start packing.’

‘I’m not going anyplace,’ I told her.

‘That’s up to you, of course.’

I was more than a little startled. ‘You’d go off and leave me alone?’ I asked incredulously.

‘You’ve been leavingmealone ever since you found the Tree, Pol,’ she reminded me. ‘Are you going to pack or not?’

It was one of the few times that Beldaran openly asserted her authority over me. She normally got what she wanted in more subtle ways.

She went to a cluttered area of uncle Beldin’s tower and began rummaging around through the empty wooden boxes uncle had stacked there.

‘I gather from the tone of things that you girls are having a little disagreement,’ uncle said to me mildly.

‘It’s more like a permanent rupture,’ I retorted. ‘Beldaran’s going to obey father, and I’m not’

‘I wouldn’t make any wagers, Pol.’ Uncle Beldin had raised us, after all, and he understood our little power structure.

‘This is right and proper, Pol,’ Beldaran said back over her shoulder. ‘Respect, if not love, compels our obedience.’

‘Respect? I haven’t got any respect for that beer-soaked mendicant!’

‘You should have, Pol. Suit yourself, though. I’m going to obey him. You can do as you like. Youwillvisit me from time to time, won’t you?’

How could I possibly answer that? Now perhaps you can see the source of Beldaran’s power over me. She almost never lost her temper, and she always spoke in a sweetly reasonable tone of voice, but that was very deceptive. An ultimatum is an ultimatum, no matter how it’s delivered.

I stared at her helplessly.

‘Don’t you think you should start packing, dear sister?’ she asked sweetly.

I stormed out of uncle Beldin’s tower and went immediately to my Tree to sulk. A few short answers persuaded even my birds to leave me alone.

I spent that entire night in the Tree, hoping the unnatural separation would bring Beldaran to her senses. My sister, however, concealed a will of iron under that sweet, sunny exterior. She moved into father’s tower with him, and after a day or so of almost unbearable loneliness, I sulkily joined them.

This is not to say that I spent very much time in father’s cluttered tower. I slept there and occasionally ate with my father and sister, but it was summer. My Tree was all the home I really needed, and my birds provided me with company.

As I look back, I see a peculiar dichotomy of motivesbehind that summer sabbatical in the branches of the Tree. Firstly, of course, I was trying to punish Beldaran for her betrayal of me. Actually, though, I stayed in the Tree because I liked it there. I loved the birds, and mother was with me almost continually as I scampered around among the branches, frequently assuming forms other than my own. I found that squirrels are very agile. Of course I could always become a bird and simply fly up to the top-most branches, but there’s a certain satisfaction in actually climbing.

It was about midsummer when I discovered the dangers involved in taking the form of a rodent. Rodents of all sorts, from mice on up the scale, are looked upon as a food source by just about every other species in the world with the possible exception of goldfish. One bright summer morning I was leaping from limb to limb among the very top-most branches of the Tree when a passing hawk decided to have me for breakfast.

‘Don’t do that,’ I told him in a disgusted tone as he came swooping in on me.

He flared off, his eyes startled. ‘Polgara?’ he said in amazement. ‘Is that really you?’

‘Of course it is, you clot.’

‘I’m very sorry,’ he apologized. ‘I didn’t recognize you.’

‘You should pay closer attention. All manner of creatures get caught in baited snares when they think they’re about to get some free food.’

‘Who would try to trapme?’

‘You wouldn’t want to find out.’

‘Would you like to fly with me?’ he offered.

‘How do you know I can fly?’

‘Can’t everybody?’ he asked, sounding a bit startled. He was evidently a very young hawk.

To be absolutely honest, though, I enjoyed our flight. Each bird flies a little differently, but the effortless art of soaring, lifted by the unseen columns of warm air rising from the earth, gives one a sense of unbelievable freedom.

All right, I like to fly. So what?

Father had decided to leave me to my own devices that summer, probably because the sound of my voice grated on his nerves. Once, however, hedidcome to my Tree – probably at Beldaran’s insistence – to try to persuade me to come home.He, however, was the one who got a strong dose of persuasion. I unleashed my birds on him, and they drove him off.

I saw my father and my sister occasionally during the following weeks. In actuality, I stopped by from time to time to see if I could detect any signs of suffering in my sister. If Beldaran was suffering, though, she managed to hide it quite well. Father sat off in one corner during my visits. He seemed to be working on something quite small, but I really wasn’t curious about whatever it might have been.

It was early autumn when I finally discovered what he’d been so meticulously crafting. He came down to my Tree one morning, and Beldaran was with him. ‘I’ve got something for you, Pol,’ he told me.

‘I don’t want it,’ I told him from the safety of my perch.

‘Aren’t you being a little ridiculous, Pol?’ Beldaran suggested.

‘It’s a family trait,’ I replied.

Then father did something he’s very seldom done to me. One moment I was comfortably resting on my perch about twenty feet above the ground. At the next instant I was sprawled in the dirt at his feet. The old rascal had translocated me! That’s better,’ he said. ‘Now we can talk.’ He held out his hand, and there was a silver medallion on a silver chain hanging from his fingers. ‘This is for you,’ he told me.

Somewhat reluctantly I took it. ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ I asked him.

‘You’re supposed to wear it.’

‘Why?’

‘Because the Master says so. If you want to argue with Him, go right ahead. Just put it on, Pol, and stop all this foolishness. It’s time for us all to grow up.’

I looked rather closely at the amulet and saw that it bore the image of an owl. It occurred to me that this somehowvery appropriate gift had come from Aldur instead of father. At that point in my life decorations of any kind seemed wildly inappropriate, but I immediately saw a use for this one. It bore the image of an owl, my favorite alternative form – and mother’s as well. Part of the difficulty of the shape-change is getting the image right, and father was evidently a very talented sculptor. The owl was so lifelike that it looked almost as if it could fly. This particular ornament would beveryuseful.

When I put it on, something rather strange came over me. I’d have sooner died than have admitted it, but I suddenly felt complete, as if something had always been missing.

‘And now we are three,’ Beldaran said vapidly.

‘Amazing,’ I said a bit acidly. ‘Youdoknow how to count.’ My unexpected reaction to father’s gift had put me off-balance, and I felt the need to lash out at somebody – anybody.

‘Don’t be nasty,’ Beldaran told me. ‘I know you’re more clever than I am, Pol. You don’t have to hit me over the head with it. Now why don’t you stop all this foolishness and come back home where you belong?’

The guiding principle of my entire life at that point had been my rather conceited belief that nobody told me what to do. Beldaran disabused me of that notion right then and there.Shecould – and occasionally did – give me orders. The implied threat that she would withhold her love from me brought me to heel immediately.

The three of us walked on back to father’s tower. He seemed a little startled by my sudden change of heart, and I believe that even to this day he doesn’t fully understand the power Beldaran had over me.

Perhaps it was to cover his confusion that he offered me some left-over breakfast. I discovered immediately that this most powerful sorcerer in the world was woefully inadequate in the kitchen. ‘Did you do this to perfectly acceptable food on purpose, father?’ I asked him. ‘Youmusthave. Nobody could have done something this bad by accident.’

‘If you don’t like it, Pol, there’s the kitchen.’

‘Why, Idobelieve you’re right, father,’ I replied in mocksurprise. ‘How strange that I didn’t notice that. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you’ve got books and scrolls piled all over the working surfaces.’

He shrugged. “They give me something to read while I’m cooking.’

‘I knew thatsomethingmust have distracted you. You couldn’t have ruined all this food if you’d been paying attention.’ Then I laid my arm on the counter-top and swept all his books and scrolls off on to the floor. ‘From now on, keep your toys out of my kitchen, father. Next time, I’ll burn them.’

‘Yourkitchen?’

‘Somebody’sgoing to have to do the cooking, and you’re so inept that you can’t be trusted near a stove.’

He was too busy picking up his books to answer.

Andthatestablished my place in our peculiar little family. I love to cook anyway, so I didn’t mind, but in time I came to wonder if I hadn’t to some degree demeaned myself by taking on the chore of cooking. After a week or so, or three, things settled down, and our positions in the family were firmly established. I complained a bit now and then, but in reality I wasn’t really unhappy about it.

There was somethingelsethat I didn’t like, though. I soon found that I couldn’t undo the latch on the amulet father had made for me, but I was something of an expert on latches and I soon worked it out. The secret had to do with time, and it was so complex that I was fairly certain father hadn’t devised it all by himself. Hehadsculpted the amulet at Aldur’s instruction, after all, and only a God could have conceived of a latch that existed in two different times simultaneously.

Why don’t we just let it go at that? The whole concept still gives me a headache, so I don’t think I’ll go into it any further.

My duties in the kitchen didn’t really fill my days. I soon bullied Beldaran into washing the dishes after breakfast while I prepared lunch, which was usually something cold. A cold lunch never hurt anybody, after all, and once thatwas done, I was free to return to my Tree and my birds. Neither father nor my sister objected to my daily excursions, since it cut down on my opportunities to direct clever remarks at father.

And so the seasons turned, as they have a habit of doing.

We were pretty well settled in after the first year or so, and father had invited his brothers over for supper. I recall that evening rather vividly, since it opened my eyes to something I wasn’t fully prepared to accept. I’d always taken it as a given that my uncles had good sense, but they treated my disreputable father as if he were some sort of minor deity. I was in the midst of preparing a fairly lavish supper when I finally realized just how much they deferred to him.

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