Last week, the party was caught again by their enemeies, and engaged in a street battle to fight them off. Garion fought through a Grolim’s mental powers to explain that Asharak is likely a Grolim and used his abilities to get the information about where the party was headed next when they saw him last. Silk flung a dagger through the window where said Grolim was and injured them, and then the party ditched the city and got some very good horses from the local Algar herds, with a rearguard thrown in for good measure.
Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter 10: Content Notes:
Chapter Ten starts with a lot of riding on good horses before Polgara again intercedes with practicality (they won’t be able to ride forty leagues straight without rest for humans or horses) and Wolf offers an option to use:
“If I remember correctly, there should be an imperial hostel about five leagues farther to the west,” Wolf said. “We ought to reach it by noon.”
“Will we be allowed to stay there?” Durnik asked doubtfully. “I’ve never heard that Tolnedrans are noted for hospitality.”
“Tolnedrans sell anything for a price,” Silk said. “The hostel would be a good place to stop. Even if Brill or Asharak evade the Algars and follow us there, the legionnaires won’t permit any foolishness within their walls.”
“Why should there be Tolnedran soldiers in Sendaria?” Garion asked, feeling a brief surge of patriotic resentment at the thought.
“Wherever the great roads are, you’ll find the legions,” Silk said. “Tolnedrans are even better at writing treaties than they are at giving short weight to their customers.”
Mister Wolf chuckled. “You’re inconsistent, Silk,” he said. “You don’t object to their highways, but you dislike their legions. You can’t have the one without the other.”
“I’ve never pretended to be consistent,” the sharp-nosed man said airily. “If we want to reach the questionable comfort of the imperial hostel by noon, hadn’t we better move along? I wouldn’t want to deny His Imperial Majesty the opportunity to pick my pocket.”
That’s a very bold claim to say the Tolnedran legionnaires won’t permit any foolishness, given that they’re up against someone, potentially, with mindpowers. And if it’s really true that Tolnedrans will sell anything, presumably that means they can be bribed. Given that Brill ended up with an entire pouch of red gold, I somehow doubt that money is going to be an issue for Asharak if he wants to bribe the legionnaires.
I’m also much more interested in Garion’s question that Silk dismisses – how are these roads maintained, and why are there legionnaires on them in what are supposedly sovereign kingdoms? Silk’s flippant answer is that Tolnedrans are very good at cheating everyone, whether it’s in merchanting or politics, but that’s got to be a hell of a treaty to let someone else’s soldiers within your borders, with fortifications, no less, as the hostel is described as “a series of stout buildings surrounded by an even stouter wall.” Are the legionnaires restricted to defending or peacekeeping only on the roads they’ve built? Are these toll roads that all of the other kingdoms pay for the use of, or do the Tolnedrans pay for the privilege of being able to maintain and staff the roads and the other kingdoms let them do it because they don’t want the expense of it? There’s a whole bunch of treaty work that had to have happened here, and it’s not like we’re talking about administrative divisions of the same country here. That’s interesting worldbuilding possibility there, even if Garion would find it kind of boring, potentially, to learn about what the reasons are in any sort of detail.
And speaking of the legions,
The legionnaires who manned it were not the same sort of men as the Tolnedran merchnts Garion had seen before. Unlike the oily men of commerce, these were hard-faced professional fighting men in burnished breastplates and plumed helmets. They carried themselves proudly, even arrogantly, each bearing the knowledge that the might of all Tolnedra was behind him.
Which, again, that’s fighting men and fortifications in other countries that are not allied or conquered to Tolnedra. They’ve got some impressive diplomats to be able to wrangle that. Which might be why Silk is so aggravated about them.
Also, I really would like it if this story would go all in on how much they hate capitalism and money and the merchants who keep gouging honest people. If it had been established that our chronicler is a Sendar, for example, the continual referents to merchants as “oily” or otherwise terrible and the continual references to Silk’s unhandsome features would be entirely in character, and there would be opportunities to insert some occasional rants here and there into various character’s mouths about how much they hate money and merchants, but they have to use them. Another opportunity for the meta to shine here, and it’s already been built into the ways that people get described.
Another thing about the legionnaires and their buildings is that apparently they’re built exactly the same, no matter where you go, as Garion finds out when the party stays at a second hostel on their journey.
“Tolnedrans are nothing if not predictable,” Silk said. “All their hostels are exactly the same. You can find these same buildings in Drasnia, Algaria, Arendia and any place else their great roads go. It’s their one weakness—this lack of imagination.”
“Don’t they get tired of doing the same thing over and over again?”
“It makes them feel comfortable, I guess,” Silk laughed. “Let’s go see about supper.”
And again, I am struck by how good these treaties must be, that so many of these buildings and their soldiers are allowed to exist in so many other kingdoms and places. (Also, I am amused that it’s the Tolnedrans who are accused of being unimaginative, since they replicate what presumably works for them remarkably well, when I had suggested earlier that the Sendarians would be the ones who are unimaginative.)
The food in the dining hall was plain and wholesome, but dreadfully expensive. The tiny sleeping cubicles were scrupulously clean, with hard, narrow beds and thick woolen blankets, and were also expensive. The stables were neat, and they too reached deeply into Mister Wolf’s purse. Garion wondered at the thought of how much heir lodging was costing, but Wolf paid for it all with seeming indifference as if his purse were bottomless.
This seems wrong, to me. Not that Belgarath has essentially infinite resources, but that the hostel is extremely expensive in all of their services. It’s not mentioned where the hostels are located, (presumably, the hostels are quartering for the legionnaires) but the only thing I can imagine for this setup working is if the hostels are arranged essentially that they’re the last rest stop for leagues, with no villages or citites anywhere near them that could be reached if a party of travelers needed to find somewhere for the night unexpectedly. Otherwise, presumably, they wouldn’t be used at all. (Okay, maybe the deliberately high prices are supposed to be a deterrent to people who aren’t legionnaires or Tolnedrans from staying with them unless they really have to, but this still seems like the opposite of what a good roadside hotel should cost.)
As they approach the city, Polgara’s practicality strikes again, although this time, the narrative really leans in on trying to make this sound like Polgara is being a very delicate flower and not at all on board with this manly roughing it and camping.
Late on a chill, snowy afternoon, they rode down a gradual hill toward the city. Some distance from the gate, Aunt Pol stopped her horse. “Since we’re no longer posing as vagabonds,” she announced, “I see no furher need for selecting the most desreputable inns, do you?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Mister Wolf said.
“Well, I have,” she said. “I’ve had more than enough of wayside hostels and seedy village inns. I need a bath, a clean bed and some decent food. If you don’t mind, I’ll choose our lodging this time.”
“Of course, Pol,” Wolf said mildly. “Whatever you say.”
“Very well, then,” she said and rode on toward the city gate with the rest of them trailing behind her.
“What’s your business in Camaar?” one of the furmantled guards at the broad gate asked rather rudely.
Aunt Pol threw back her hood and fixed the man with a steely gaze. “I am the Duchess of Erat,” she announced in ringing tones. “These are my retainers, and my business in Camaar is my own affair.”
[…And the act works, flustering the guard sufficiently that he apologizes and then gives them directions to the finest inn in the city (at least in his opinion)…]
“My thanks,” the guard said as Wolf leaned down to hand him a small coin. “I must admit that I haven’t heard of the Duchess of Erat before.”
“You’re a fortunate man,” Wolf said.
“She’s a great beauty,” the man said admiringly.
“And has a temper to match,” Wolf told him.
“I noticed that,” the guard said.
“We noticed you noticing,” Silk told him slyly.
They nudged their horses and caught up with Aunt Pol.
“The Duchess of Erat?” Silk asked mildly.
“The fellow’s manner irritated me,” Aunt Pol said loftily, “and I’m tired of putting on a poor face in front of strangers.”
With a significant dollop of the same kinds of behavior that she was giving Zubrette grief about earlier on, in behaving like a haughty noblewoman. So the narrative really is giving Polgara all the bad aspects that it can, in comparison to the good aspects that the men have.
Additionally, I notice that Polgara has apparently become a looker, despite not, as best as I can tell, having changed her clothes into something much more like what a noblewoman would wear, even on a road trip. Which is not to say it’s impossible, just I would expect clothing of much humbler fare to be far less revealing of figure. Maybe the guard is basing this judgment solely on being able to see her face. I don’t know, but it feels like a glamour’s been cast off, now that Polgara has declared that they’re all doing it her way instead of how they were doing it before.
We also get some slight disapproval about changing to this high-visibility tactic from Belgarath, as well as a complaint that should get him disapproved-at for hypocrisy.
Aunt Pol was standing before the fire, warming her hands. “Isn’t this better than some shabby, wharfside inn reeking of fish and unwashed sailors?” she asked.
“If the Duchess of Erat will forgive my saying so,” Wolf said somewhat tartly, “this is hardly the way to escape notice, and the cost of these lodgings would feed a legion for a week.”
“Don’t grow parsimonious in your dotage, Old Wolf,” she replied. “No one takes a spoiled noblewoman seriously, and your wagons weren’t able to keep that disgusting Brill from finding us. This guise is at least comfortable, and it permits us to move more rapidly.”
So how much were they paying for the hostel? Inquiring minds want to know if this is actually saving them money by staying in a higher-class inn.
I’m also wondering why Polgara is doing it this particular way. She says that nobody remembers a spoiled noblewoman, which might be true enough, but this seems like too polished of a role for Polgara to be making this up on the fly, so I have to wonder how long she’s played at this role, and whether she likes it a lot more because of the creature comforts that come with it (because she always seems to talk about things like clean sheets and baths whenever she gets to have the men stop and stay at an inn or otherwise) instead of some other reason. Obviously, when you’ve lived as long as she has, you have taken on just about every role, but Polgara was suggesting this right from the beginning as the way to go, nominally for speed reasons.
With the new plan underway, and the Duchess of Erat getting things made for her so that she can continue to play the role effectively, Garion (as the page) is reduced to a waiting role, which he spends around Barak, looking at the tapestries and other things present in the inn. Barak, despite being the party’s taciturn barbarian, demonstrates an understanding of culture and a cosmopolitan outlook on the world, describing a tapestry as Arendish and a carpet as Mallorean. When Garion asks, Barak says Arendish women have a fondness for making tapestry while their men are out denting each other’s armor. Barak considers it silly to have fully plate armored men and horses as a way to make war, and understands that merchants will grab goods from absolutely anywhere, including the Angarak kingdoms, if they think they can make a profit on it. Which leads to Garion asking about the Angarak kingdoms.
“How many kinds of Angaraks are there?” Garion asked. “I know there are Murgos and Thulls, and I’ve heard stories about the battle of Vo Mimbre and all, but I don’t know much about them, really.”
“There are five tribes of them,” Barak said, sitting back down and resuming his polishing. “Murgos and Thulls, Nadraks and Malloreans, and of course the Grolims. They live in the four kingdoms of the east—Mallorea, Gar og Nadrak, Mishrak ac Thull and Cthol Murgos.”
“Where do the Grolims live?”
“They have no special place,” Barak replied grimly. “The Grolims are the priests of Torak One-eye and are everywhere in the lands of the Angaraks. They’re the ones who perform the sacrifices to Torak. Grolim knives have spilled more Angarak blood than a dozen Vo Mimbres.”
Garion shuddered. “Why should Torak take such pleasure in the slaughter of his own people?” he asked.
“Who can say?” Barak shrugged. “He’s a twisted and evil God. Some believe that he was made mad when he used the Orb of Aldur to crack the world and the Orb repaid him by burning out his eye and consuming his hand.”
This is another one of those times where we could let a little more meta show out here. The narrative is very clearly invested in making sure we don’t question that Torak is evil, his people are evil, and his priests are evil people who sacrifice their own to their god. It would be nice if this were a little wobblier rather than going unquestioned. Because, after all, you could describe something like capital punishment as sacrifice to an evil god if you look at it from the right angle and you don’t have all the data to understand that it’s the government demanding this, as opposed to it being a demand of the dominant religion, perhaps corrupted in some form. Or if you wanted to demonize a different religion and play up the idea that they are much more bloodthirsty and primitive than your enlightened religion, even though they’re both offshoots of the same predecessor belief system. Because more and more, the Angaraks and the Grolims really are starting to sound like the Scary Muslims as much as they are the more generic Scary Foreigners. Even though we’re in front of the Scary Muslims being more of a general trope.
And as with Silk, Garion tries to get some of his curiosity indulged by someone who isn’t Polgara telling him to be quiet.
“Do you know what I think?” Garion said on a sudden impulse. “I think it’s the Orb of Aldur that’s been stolen. I think it’s the Orb that Mister Wolf is trying to find.”
“And I think it’d be better if you didn’t think so much about such things,” Barak warned.
“But I want to know,” Garion protested, his curiosity driving him even in the face of Barak’s words and the warning voice in his mind. “Everyone treats me like an ignorant boy. All I do is tag along with no idea of what we’re doing. Who is Mister Wolf, anyway? Why did the Algars behave the way they did when they saw him? How can he follow something that he can’t see? Please tell me, Barak.”
“Not me,” Barak laughed. “Your Aunt would pull out my beard whisker by whisker if I made that mistake.”
“You’re not afraid of her, are you?”
“Any man with good sense is afraid of her,” Barak said, rising and sliding his sword into its sheath.
“Aunt Pol?” Garion asked incredulously.
“No,” Garion said, and then realized that was not precisely true. “Well—not really afraid. It’s more—” He left it hanging, not knowing how to explain it.
“Exactly,” Barak said. “And I’m no more foolhardy than you, my boy. You’re too full of questions I’d be far wiser not to answer. If you want to know about these things, you’ll have to ask your Aunt.”
“She won’t tell me,” Garion said glumly. “She won’t tell me anything. She won’t even tell me about my parents—not really.”
Barak frowned. “That’s strange,” he said.
“I don’t think they were Sendars,” Garion said. “Their names weren’t Sendarian, and Silk says that I’m not a Sendar—at least, I don’t look like one.”
Barak looked at him closely. “No,” he said finally. “Now that you mention it, you don’t. You look more like a Rivan than anything else—but not quite that either.”
“Is Aunt Pol a Rivan?”
Barak’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I think we’re getting to some more of those questions I hadn’t better answer.”
“I’m going to find out someday,” Garion said.
“But not today,” Barak said. “Come along. I need some exercise. Let’s go out into the innyard and I’ll teach you how to use a sword.”
“Me?” Garion said, all his curiosity suddenly melting away in the excitement of that thought.
“You’re at an age where you should begin to learn,” Barak said. “The occasion may someday arise when it’ll be a useful thing for you to know.”
Late that afternoon when Garion’s arm had begun to ache from the effort of swinging Barak’s heacy sowrd and the whole idea of learning the skills of a warrior had become a great deal less exciting, Mister Wolf and Silk returned.
This is the second time that someone has distracted Garion from his questions by offering to teach him a skill. In both cases, these are skills that Garion could have stood to learn before now, since he’s been in situations where being able to follow along with the mercantile conversation and being able to defend himself against attackers would have been eminently useful. And both times that the skill has been on offer, we find out that Garion finds it less romantic than what he had imagined it to be. I mean, swinging heavy weapons until you get good at it is a lot of hard work that builds muscles, callouses, and makes you both sore and tired, and that’s even more so if you also lug around armor on your body and swing heavy weapons. The secret language lessons probably look good in comparison to the full-body exercise that the sword work is. All the same, it’s still probably a good idea for Garion to continue getting self-defense lessons from as many people as he can. Also, it would have been nice if these lessons have been going on all his life, so as to make Garion less of a sexy lamp. What if it was Durnik that had been teaching him to swim, Pol teaching him to cook, Wolf teaching him the mythology of the world (and how to tell a convincing story), and now we simply add on Silk teaching him the secret language and Barak teaching him how to swing a sword? That way, Garion gets to be part of the adventure and put his skills to work, even if Aunt Pol is less amused about the ways that Garion is trying to put those skills to use or that he keeps pulling them out of his bag in situations where it might be better for him not to do that.
With the return of Silk and Belgarath, Garion knocks on Pol’s door and says they’re back and want to talk to him, remembering to keep his kayfavbe on in time. At which point Polgara steps outside with her new dress on, and Garion has an odd reaction.
Garion gasped. The rich, blue velvet gown she wore made her so magnificent that she quite took his breath away. He stared at her in helpless admiration.
“Where is he?” she asked. “Don’t stand and gape, Garion. It’s not polite.”
“You’re beautiful, Aunt Pol,” he blurted.
“Yes, dear,” she said, patting his cheek, “I know. Now where’s the Old Wolf?”
Garion has lived with Polgara all his life, to the point where she’s family. Presumably, he’s already figured out that most people think that Polgara’s pretty, and he’s figured out what those other people think is the best thing about her, and he’s probably seen her when she is actually putting in an effort, if she ever really did. For him to be stunned by this seems off to me. For him to go “Wow, that dress really accents things, I wonder what’s going to happen when Durnik sees this,” would seem to be more in the right idea. And speaking of Durnik:
“Well?” she asked.
Wolf looked up at her, his eyes still bright. “An excellent choice, Pol,” he said admiringly. “Blue has always been your best color.”
“Do you like it?” she asked, holding out her arms and turning almost girlishly so that they all might see how fine she looked. “I hope it pleases you, old man, because it’s costing you a great deal of money.”
Wolf laughed. “I was almost certain it would,” he said.
The effect of Aunt Pol’s gown on Durnik was painfully obvious. The poor man’s eyes literally bulged, and his face turned alternatively very pale and then very red, then finally settled into an expression of such hopelessness that Garion was touched to the quick by it.
Barak and Silk give Pol a bow as their tribute, but yeah, if it wasn’t already obvious, Durnik very clearly has the hots for Pol. And this part would be more that sufficient to establish that the gown makes Pol look good, without the issue of making the child she raised from infancy be the one to articulate it out loud first.
Having confirmed that the thief came this way, the party figures out the likelihood of where he went next – not by sea, because there are warships that would find him, and not through the lands of Belar’s people, because that’s a confrontation to avoid, and similarly with the lands under the protection of the god UL. At which point things have gotten too complicated for Durnik.
“Forgive me,” Durnik said, his eyes still on Aunt Pol. “This is all most confusing. I’ve never heard just exactly who this thief is.”
“I’m sorry, gentle Durnik,” Wolf said. “It’s not a good idea to speak his name. He has certain powers which might make it possible for him to know our ever move if we alert him to our location, and he can hear his name spoken a thousand leagues away.”
“A sorceror?” Durnik asked unbelievingly.
“The word isn’t one I’d choose,” Wolf said. “It’s a term used by men who don’t understand that particular art. Instead, let’s call him ‘thief’, though there are a few other names I might call him which are far less kindly.”
[…they continue to try and figure out where the next stop is likely to be…]
“Maybe he wants to keep the thing he’s stolen for himself rather than deliver it over to the Grolims. He might even seek sanctuary in Nyissa.”
“He couldn’t do that without the contrivance of Salmissra,” Aunt Pol said.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that the Queen of the Serpent People has tampered with things that are none of her concern,” Wolf pointed out.
“If that turns out to be true,” Aunt Pol said grimly, “I think I’ll give myself the leisure to deal with the snakewoman permanently.”
What was that again about objecting to casual killing? It must only apply in Sendaria about Sendarians. If that’s the truth, though, I’m not sure anyone would want to venture outside of Sendaria, if the likelihood of being killed for random reasons (or non-random ones) rises precipitously. Also, we’re continuing in the theme of the Nyissans being untrustworthy and shading hard into always chaotic evil, or at least always interfering in things that are above their pay grade.
It’s also worth noting that if this is the same Salmissra who was responsible for the death of the Rivan King some 1300+ years go, it appears that Aldur is not the only god who can pull off the “untouched by time” trick. Or that all the queens of Nyissa are named Salmissra and treated officially like they’re the same person for all this time.
Most importantly, though, why haven’t they used this explanation with Garion before? It’s logical, it doesn’t leave anything important out, and it answers the question fully. “We don’t name You-Know-Who because he can hear people talking about him by name” is a complete answer and it doesn’t reveal the name or anything more about the quest. If Garion presses further on the matter, then he can be told that they’ve answered the question and nothing more will be said.
Plot-wise, the arrival of soldiers dressed in the colors of the king of Sendaria stops the planning for a bit. They’re looking after someone who fits Wolf’s description, but the innkeeper says that the person is the chamberlain to the Duchess of Erat, which the soldier does a double-take at and asks to meet with Her Grace. Which leaves Garion and Polgara in the same room as Captain Brendig, who apologetically points out that in addition to his captaincy, he’s a baronet, and he’s never seen Polgara at court (because she’s too beatiful not to have been noticed). Which would not be a problem for Polgara, except this captain is also exceedingly up on his Sendarian history.
“Moreover, your Grace,” he continued, “I’m familiar with all of the holdings of the kingdom. If I’m not mistaken, the district of Erat is an earldom, and the Earl of Erat is a short, stout man—my great uncle incidentally. There has been no duchy in that part of Sedarian since the kingdom was under the dominion of the Wacite Arends.”
Aunt Pol fixed him with an icy stare.
“My Lady,” Brendig said almost apologetically, “the Wacite Arends were exterminated by their Asturian cousins in the last years of the third millenium. There has been no Wacite nobility for over two thousand years.”
“I thank you for the history lesson, my Lord,” Aunt Pol said coldly.
Bus-ted. Of course, they don’t know that she’s Polgara, an ageless sorceress, so it’s entirely possible that Polgara is telling the absolute truth when she claims to be the Duchess of Erat, because she might have been when there was a duchy. Unfortunately for her, they drew a captain and a baronet who actually has paid enough attention at court to know that title and place don’t actually exist. Having been called out, eventually, Wolf appears and acquiesces to the request to go see “Fulrach of Sendaria,” the king, as soon as possible, so that they can get back to the thing that they actually want to do. The captain of the guard gets their promise that they won’t run during the night, and also mentions that he has to station guards around the inn as well, for their protection, ostensibly. Having been caught out, and Polgara’s attempts at intimidation failing, the chapter ends.
Presumably, Fulrach knows what they’re up to, or at least has a good guess, so what’s he doing pulling them off this mission to go see him? (We’ll find out, I’m sure.) The delay to get to the capital city and hear out whatever is going on will allow the thief to continue to gain time on them with what he’s taken. If it really is the Orb of Aldur, that means it’s closer to being used as an implement of destruction again. I’m pretty sure there are all sorts of people who would at least make the attempt to use it for their purposes, even if the likely result was that they get consumed in cleansing fire. So, next week, I suppose we abandon the recovery quest to have an interlude with royalty?