Last time, Ctuchik thought he had an easy win for his prophecy, only to find out he’d been anticipated and that Ce’Nedra was not in the party or anywhere near enough to be killed. In rage and desperation afterward, he tried to unmake something, and Garion got to witness firsthand what the kind of consequences are when someone uses their magic to try and enforce “Be not!” on someone or something. Good thing that he got taught that early on, when he still had tremendous power but it was uncontrolled.
And also, the child that was carrying the Orb got rescued, because the dry voice in Garion’s head said he was necessary to the whole operation.
Castle of Wizardry, Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes:
We’re over the halfway point, in terms of books. It only took three of them to get to something resembling a real, actual-stakes action sequence with consequences. But before I let my snark derail the thing that needs doing, let’s dive into the prologue for this book.
Being an account of how Riva Iron-grip became Guardian of the Orb of Aldur and of the evil wrought by Nyissa.
– Based upon The Book of Alorn and later accounts.
Well, I suppose this is as good of primary sources as we’re going to get on the matter, but I don’t hold out hope that the chronicler is impartial to the events as they happened.
There is a mercifully short recap of how the original party went out and busted up Torak and took the Orb away from him and Riva was the only one to be able to touch it, because he’s the chosen one. Having been burdened with the safekeeping of the Orb, Riva goes to the Isle of Winds and builds himself a fortress that he also calls Riva.
Then a deep sleep fell upon Riva, and Belar, Bear-God of the Alorns, appeared to him in a dream, saying “Behold, Guardian of the Orb, I will cause two stars to fall from the sky. And thou shalt take up the two stars and place thm in a fire and forge them. One shalt thou forge into a blade, the other into a hilt, and together they shall be a sword to guard the Orb of my brother Aldur.”
When Riva awoke, he saw two stars fall and he sought and found them in the high mountains. And he did with them as Belar had commanded. But when it was done, the blade and hilt could not be joined. Then Riva cried out, “Behold, I have marred the work, for the sword will not become one.”
A fox, which had sat nearby to watch him, said to Riva, “The work is not marred, Riva. Take the hilt and place the Orb upon it as a pommel stone.” And when Riva did as the fox instructed, the Orb became one with the hilt. But blade and hilt were still unjoined. Again the fox counseled him, “Take the blade in your left hand and the hilt in the right and join them.”
“They will not join. It is not possible,” Riva said.
“Wise are you, indeed,” the fox said, “to know what is not possible before you have made the attempt.”
Then Riva was ashamed. He set blade and hilt together, and the blade passed into the hilt as a stick slides into water. The sword was joined forever.
The fox laughed and said, “Take the sword and smite the rock which stands before you.”
Riva feared for the blade, lest the blow shatter it, but he smote the rock. The rock broke in two, and water gushed forth in a river and flowed down to the city below.
The fox is revealed to be Belgarath, and now that he has the sword, Riva has it placed in his palace, where the sword itself sticks to the stone and allows none but Riva to take it down from the wall. Then we get to the genealogy portion, where Beldaran arrives, Riva falls in love with her, and they have a son, who is immediately marked with the mark of the Orb of Aldur, which isn’t described, but it’s not that difficult to know that it’s the circle that’s been on Garion’s palm and that Polgara has basically tied to keep covered in dirt and grime for most of Garion’s life. As the generations pass, each of the sons is born with the mark, and the bond between the line of Riva and the Orb grows.
Then we have what is probably the best example of why Alorns shouldn’t necessarily be in charge of anything at all.
“Thus it was in the city of Riva for a thousand years. Sometimes strangers sailed into the Sea of Winds, seeking trade, but the ships of Cherek, bound to defend the Isle of the Winds, fell upon the strangers and destroyed them. But in time, the Alorn Kings met and determined in council that these strangers were not the servants of Torak, but bowed instead to the God Nedra. Then they agreed to let the ships sail the Sea of the Winds unmolested. “For,” the Rivan Kind told his fellow monarchs, ” a time may come when the sons of Nedra will join with us in our struggle against the Angaraks of Torak One-Eye. Let us not offend Nedra by sinking the ships of his children. The rule of Riva spoke wisely, and the Alorn kings agreed, knowing that the world was changing.
Then treaties were signed with the sons of Nedra, who took a childish delight in signing scraps of parchment. But when they sailed into the harbor at Riva, with their ships bearing full loads of gaudy trinkets upon which they placed high value, the Rivan King laughed at their folly and closed he gates of the city to them.
The sons of Nedra importuned thei king, whom they called Emperor, to force the city gates so that they might hawk their wares in the streets, and the Emperor sent his army to the Isle. Now, to permit these strangers from the kingdom they called Tolnedra passage upon the sea was one thing, but to let them land an army at the gates of Riva without challenge was quite another. The Rivan Kind ordered that the strand before the city be cleared and the harbor be swept clean of the ships of Tolnedra. And it was done.
Great was the wrath of the Emperor of Tolnedra. He assembled his armies to cross the Sea of the Winds and do war. Then the peaceloving Alorns held council to try reason upon this rash Emperor. And the sent out a message to advise him that, should he persist, they would rise up and destroy Emperor and kindom and sweep the wreckage thereof into the sea. And the Emperor gave heed to this quiet remonstrance and abandoned his desparate adventure.
As years passed and the Rivan Kind realized that these merchants from Tolnedra were harmless, he allowed them to build a village upon the strand before his city and there to display their useless goods. Their desperation to sell or trade came to amuse him, and he asked his people to buy some few items from them—though no purpose could be found for the goods thus purchased.
Cocowhat by depizan
So the official policy of Riva and the surrounding area is that an ship that gets close to them gets sunk. And they do this for quite a while before they recognize that they’re not Angarak ships. Did nobody pass along to their descendans what the ships of Angarak looked like? Or the people of Angarak? Or any other thing that might be relevant to the part where you’re supposed to identify the ship or the people before you fire upon it and destroy it? (Assuming that Cherek warships have the ability to fire ballistae and other such large, ship-destroying weaponry.) How many Tolnedran ships got sunk before the Rivan King went “Oops, my bad.” And how much do we want to bet that the Rivan King also didn’t really understand what he was doing with the treaty-signing, since this chonicler talks about “childish delight” from the Tolnedrans at putting it down on paper? And therefore, probably violated the thing as soon as the ink was dry by not letting the Tolnedrans land on the island itself. At which point, you have an angry Tolnedra, and it seems that the only thing stopping the war there, at least on this side, is the clear implication that a united Alorn front would kick the Tolnedrasn’s asses. I have a feeling that if we looked at this same event from the Tolnedran side, you’d see Ran Whomever realize that the Alorn Kings were too stupid to understand the treaty they’d signed, and since they were formidable fighters, the Tolnedrans decided that they didn’t need to fight a stupid war where the legions would probably just die, and instead, they needed to be diplomatic or otherwise figure out how to get the Alorns to actually uphold their end of the treaty obligations. So that gives them the outpost, and while the Alorn side thinks of it as a jest to trade with the Tolnedrans (and that, supposedly, there’s never any use for the merchants’ wares, which seems highly improbable to me), the Tolnedran side probably thinks of it as the long, slow way of educating their ignorant neighbors about the realities of the world, and diplomacy, and how civilized nations behave with regard to each other. And it might have worked, for all I know, except for the part where Nyissa gets involved.
And it was learned of these strangers that they were the sons of the God Issa. They called themselves Ny-Issans, and they claimed that their ruler was a woman, which seemed unnatural to all who heard. The name of this queen was Salmissra.
They came in dissembling guise, saying that they brought rich gifs from heir queen to the Rivan King and his family. Hearing this, Gorek the Wise, aged king in the line of Riva, grew curious to know more of these children of Issa and their queen. With his wife, his two sons and their wives, and all his royal grandchildren, he went from out the fortress and the city to visit the pavillion of the Ny-Issans, to greet them courteously, and to receive from them the valueless gifts sent by the harlot of Sthiss Tor. With smiles of greering, the Rivan King and his family were welcomed into the pavillion of the strangers.
Then the foul and accurses sons of Issa struck at all who were the fruit and the seed of the line of Riva. And venom was anointed upon their weapons, so that the merest scatch was death.
One child survives, taken away by a large snowy owl, although the chronicler doesn’t believe it, and neither do the people who question the sole witness. (We know it’s true, because Garion, but it’s hard to believe if you’re in the contemporary part of it.)
Brand hears what happens, and sets immediately to the torture of the Nyissans to figure out who ordered them to do it. They give up Salmissra, so all the Alorn kings go a-slaying in Nyissa, and eventually Salmissra gives up that she did the deed at the urging of Torak and Zedar before she dies, as well. Given what happened, and the warlike nature of the Alorns, and how very, very upset they are at what has just happened, I’m forced to conclude that the plot is the sole reason why the Nyissans weren’t genocided out of existence in revenge for killing the Rivan King and his family. Issa might not have approved, but given how Mara’s disapproval of the slaughter of his people didn’t amount to a hill of beans when Tolnedra wanted their gold, It seems pretty likely that the Alorn Kings could have made a very thorough example of Nyissa.
The big battle comes to pass at Vo Mimbre, and then there’s the prophecies about the orb, and then the stealing of the orb, and the birth of Belgarion, and the dubbing of the quest of Belgarath and the others to recover the orb and fight Torak The Belgariad, and the prologue finishes on the mysterious note that not even the Prophecy knows whether or not it’s going to succeed.
Chapter 1 dumps us back into the flight from the still-crumbling fortress of Rak Cthol that we left off at the end of the last book. Mission complete, checkpoint achieved, but like any good Metroid game (which won’t come out for a few years, anyway), there’s still the escape sequence that you have to get through So this would have been included in a book with the original divisions, rather than split up into another book this awkwardly. Garion’s taking the flight a little harder than everyone else, because there’s an additional thing getting in his way.
His ears seemed full of a swelling, exultant song that rang and soared in the vaults of his mind, erasing thought and filling him with stupefied wonder.
[…Garion figures out quickly that it’s the Orb of Aldur that’s making the noise…]
Garion struggled with it as he ran, trying desperately to pull his wits into some kind of order, but the song intruded on his every effort, scattering his mind so that chance impressions and random memory fluttered and scurried this way and that and left him to flee without design or direction.
The dank reek of the slave pens lying just beneath the disintegrating city of Rak Cthol came sharply through the shadowy galleries. As if suddenly awakened by that single stimulus, a flood of memories of other smells crashed in on Garion’s consciousness—the warm smell of fresh-baked bread in Aunt Pol’s kitchen back at Faldor’s farm, the salt smell of the sea when they had reached Darine on the north coast of Sendaria on the first leg of their quest for the Orb, the stink of the swamps and jungles of Nyissa, the stomach-turning smell of the burning bodies of the sacrificed slaves in the Temple of Torak which even now shattered and fell in opon itself among the collapsing walls of Rak Cthol. But, oddly, the smell that came sharpest to his confused memory was the sun-warmed scent of Princess Ce’Nedra’s hair.
“Garion!” Aunt Pol’s voice came sharply to him in the near dark through which they ran. “Watch where you’re going!” And he struggled to pull his mind back from its wandering even as he stumbled over a pile of broken rock where a large stretch of ceiling had fallen to the floor.
I feel for Garion here. He’s in the middle of trying to make sure he gets away from the last laugh of the Load-Bearing Boss, and his brain is being swamped by the feelings and sensations from the Orb of Aldur right next to him, in the hand of “Errand.” This seems like a good time to tell Polgara that she’s got to carry the child, or someone else does, because he’s getting ovewhelmed here by proximity, but it’s entirely possible Garion can’t muster up enough coherent thought to be able to make the sounds and words he needs to.
The hint that he’s also remembering Ce’Nedra strongest, and therefore his crush is still in effect, even though he doesn’t know it yet, well, I suppose we have to keep up with this dance until we get to Riva where the two of them can be wed and become blissfully happy with each other because prophecy. (Or promptly go “Great, prophecy fulfilled, right? Good. I want a divorce.”)
As they are trying to flee, Relg stops them and has them go back toward the armed Murgos they are trying to evade because going forward means getting caught in the part of the mountain that’s breaking apart. They do evade pursuit and stop for a rest so that Barak can catch his breath and Polgara tend to Belgarath. After having his memories scattered around again and a quick recap of what happened to Ctuchik and the importance of the rule he forgot, Polgara tasks Garion with keeping an eye on “Errand.”
“Someone’s going to have to keep an eye on him,” she observed. “There’s something very peculiar about him. After we get down, I’ll look into it, but I’ve got too much on my mind for that at the moment.
“Could it be the Orb?” Silk asked curiously. “I’ve heard that it has strange effects on people.”
“Perhaps that’s it.” But she didn’t sound very convinced. “Keep him with you, Garion, and don’t let him lose the Orb.”
“Why me?” He said it without thinking.
She gave him a level gaze.
“All right, Aunt Pol.” He knew there was no point in arguing with her.
One of these days, Gaion’s going to ask a question like that and someone’s going to actually answer him. He’ll be floored from the shock, of course, that someone treated his question like it was normal and gave him the information he requested, instead of the silent treatment that draws upon his abusive background to force him into compliance without gathering any reasons why. I don’t know who it will be, but it won’t be any of this crew, that’s for sure.
After the party detects the presence of some Murgos, the fighters sneak off to quietly dispatch them, and the other presence in Garion’s head deigns to finally be helpful about what’s going on.
“Stop fighting with it.”
“What is it?” Garion demanded, trying to focus his thoughts.
“It’s the Orb.”
“What’s it doing?”
“It wants to know you. This is its way of finding things out.”
“Can’t it wait? We don’t really have time just now.”
“You can try to explain that, if you’d like.” The voice sounded amused. “It might listen, but I doubt it. It’s been waiting for you for a very long time.”
“Don’t you ever get tired of saying that?”
“Is it doing the same thing to the others?”
“To a lesser degree. You might as well relax. One way or another, it’s going to get what it wants.“
Even the vaguely animate artifacts just want Garion to shut up and stop trying to be any sort of independent being. If only Garion would stop trying to believe he’s anything other than a vessel for prophecy and to just go where he’s told and do what he’s told, regardless of whether anyone’s bothered to teach him how to do it, then everything would move more smoothly for everyone.
So Garion does the thing that lets the Orb pick through his mind.
And then, most peculiarly, it went back to sift through every one of Garion’s memories of Princess Ce’Nedra—of the way the sun caught her coppery hair, of the lithe grace of her movements, of her scent, of each unconscious gesture, of the flicker and play of emotion across her tiny, exquisite face. It lingered on her in a way that Garion eventually found unsettling. At the same time he found himself a bit surprised that so much of what the princess had said and done had stuck so firmly in his memory.
“Garion,” Aunt Pol said, “what is the matter with you? I told you to hold onto the child. Pay attention. This isn’t the time for daydreaming.”
“I wasn’t. I was—” How could he explain it?
“You were what?”
…and Polgara snaps at him again. Garion could explain it as “The other presence in my head said the Orb’s trying to get to know me, so it’s rifling through my memories like Belgarath would raid a woman’s underwear drawer for keepsakes, and I can’t stop it from doing so, so now I’m trying to hurry the process so I can fucking concentrate on this escape path.” That is, if he had been treated like a person who has thoughts and opinions and is more than a vessel for prophecy that just needs to shut up and let the powers that are greater than him guide him to the foreordained conclusion. But because Garion’s explanations have never worked before, when they were less reliant on the magical, whether internal or in the artifact, he’s not even trying to explain, because he knows it won’t do anything at all for what’s going to happen next, which is that Polgara’s going to insist he do something and he’s going to do it before they go forward. Before this snippet, Polgara’s told Relg to take them back to Taiba, which Relg was unhappy about, but didn’t argue over, so it’s clear that the “we do what Polgara says, regardless of our own opinions” part happens to more than just Garion. (These are still supposed to be our heroes. Even with all this time and prose taken, I can’t really say that our heroes have done all that much that’s heroic.)
The party continues down, occasionally either killing Murgos or letting them go by, and Garion realizes that having collected the Orb, he’s only finished the first part of the game, drawing snark from the other voice that he’s finally figured out what everyone else already knows, their next destination is Riva, and the other voice isn’t telling him anything else other than to not make long-term plans for his life.
The party makes it to before where they left Taiba, but the path is blocked by a cave-in. Polgara insists that they have to get Taiba, and when Relg says there’s no way in to her, she insists that he use his skills to get her and bring her out. First:
The Ulgo turned to regard the little man. “She has water there and sufficient air to breathe. If the cave-in didn’t kill her, she could live for weeks before she starves to death.” There as a peculiar, quiet regret in Relg’s voice.
Silk stared at him for a moment. “Sorry, Relg,” he said finally. “I misunderstood.”
“People who live in caves have no desire to see anyone trapped like that.”
[…Polgara tells Relg he’ll have to get Taiba, and to use his rock-phasing skill to do it and bring her back…]
Relg had begun to tremble violently. “I can’t!” his voice was choked. “I’d have to touch her—put my hands on her. It’s sin.”
“This is most uncharitable of thee, Relg,” Mandorallen told him. “There is no sin in giving aid to the weak and helpless. Consideration for the unfortunate is a paramount responsibility of all decent men, and no force in all the world can corrupt the pure spirit. If compassion doth not move thee to fly to her aid, then mayest thou not prehaps regard her rescue a test of thy purity?”
“You don’t understand,” Relg told him in an anguished voice. He turned back to Polgara. “Don’t make me do this, I beg you.”
[…she insists, and Relg goes to collect Taiba all the same…]
“Why does he make so much fuss about touching people?” Barak demanded.
But Garion knew why. His enforced companionship with the ranting zealot during the ride across Algaria had given him a sharp insight into the workings of Relg’s mind. The harsh-voiced denunciations of the sins of others served primarily to conceal Relg’s own weakness. Garion had listened for hours at a time to hysterical and sometimes incoherent confessions about the lustful thoughts that raged through the fanatic’s mind almost continually. Taiba, th lush-bodied Marag slave woman, would represent for Relg the ultimate temptation, and he would fear her more than death itself.
In silence they waited. Somewhere a slow drip of water measured the passing seconds. The earth shuddered from time to time as the last uneasy shocks of earthquake trembled beneath their feet. The minuted dragged on in the dim cavern.
And then there was a flicker of movement, and Relg emerged from the rock wall carrying the half-naked Taiba. Her arms were desperately clasped about his neck, and her face was buried in his shoulder. She was whimpering in terror and trembling uncontrollably.
Relg’s face was twisted into an agony. Tears of anguish streamed openly from his eyes, and his teeth were clenched as if he were in the grip of intolerable pain. His arms, however, cradled the terrified slave woman protectively, almost gently, and even when they were free of the rock, he held her closely against him as if he intended to hold her thus forever.
…what exactly does Relg think he’s going to do if he touches a woman? Immediately go into a sexual frenzy akin to pon farr and not care at all about the consent of the woman until he’s satisfied all of his long-repressed sexual urges? Is that what he’s afraid he’s going to do? Or worse, is he going to find that he enjoys the touch of Taiba, and that he will take her up on her apparently very open offer and try to figure out how to still be devoted to UL with the additional complication of having a woman in his life, like some of his subordinates?
It’s a pretty standard thing for men in our time to claim that they didn’t have any control over themselves with regard to the terrible things they inflict on women (they’re just too sexy and alluring and they were obviously okay with it, or they wouldn’t have dressed that way or looked that way), and there are more than a few people and legal systems and religious systems that are willing to prop up that lie because it reinforces the power relationships they want to enforce on the rest of us, but Relg, like everyone else, has managed to learn that he does, in fact, have agency and control over himself and does not lose his higher brain functions when in the presence of a woman, or even touching one.
Mandorallen’s remark about the virtue of coming to someone’s aid is also spot on, and reminds me more strongly of the Buddhist story of the two monks. Relg is the monk who will still be carrying Taiba in his mind, long after he’s put her down physically and she’s recovered from the terror that comes with phasing through rocks in Relg’s company. And he’s probably going to turn more strongly to his religious practice to try and make whatever thoughts and ideas come to his mind because he’s touched a woman go away, but, well, that’s not usually the way that someone manages to make peace with the thoughts of one’s mind. Relg very much would like the experience, but believes that such a thing is forbidden to him, even though, as best as I can tell, UL certainly hasn’t forbidden it, and neither has the Gorim. Relg could manage to unwind himself from his beliefs and take up a healthier outlook, but that would mean admitting he might have been wrong, and that’s often really hard for people who have been building their identity based on their outward appearance of holiness. Taiba, I suspect, is going to see all of this very clearly and take a certain amount of delight in tweaking and tormenting Relg with herself and her body while he ties himself in tighter knots over the matter.
In any case, next week, the escape continues, with one additional party member, because Prophecy.