Category Archives: Deconstruction: The Belgariad

Queen of Sorcery: Stray Party Members

Last time, the party got to see Ran Borune, Emperor of Tolnedra, and for the first time in the narrative, the ruler didn’t immediately agree to Belgarath’s demands, considering the trade agreements with the Angaraks more important than the demands to expel them. Asharak the Murgo and Chamdar the Grolim were officially said to be the same person, and he and Belgarath traded insults with each other in a space where they can’t more directly try to kill each other.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapters 17 and 18: Content Notes:

So we’re halfway though the book, by chapters, and we still haven’t really done a whole lot of anything other than go around collecting party members and try to get rulers to go to war against the Angaraks. In theory, they’re chasing the Orb and Zedar, but the urgency of that has basically dropped off to the point where I kind of wonder whether the author has forgotten about it. Further to that point, Polgara decides she needs to go shopping at this point, and is apparently buying sufficient stuff and sufficiently expensive stuff that Silk is complaining about all the money she’s spending. (To Garion, who rightly points out that he doesn’t have any greater authority to get Polgara to stop than Silk does.) Mandorallen gets a zinger in about the opulent houses near the palace that Silk agrees with.

“The rich and the noble,” Silk said. “In Tol Honeth, the closer you live to the palace, the more important you are.”
“ ’Tis oft times thus, Prince Kheldar,” Mandorallen observed. “Wealth and position sometimes need the reassurance of proximity to the seat of power. By ostentation and propinquity to the throne, small men are able to avoid their inadequacy.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Silk said.

It’s not a bad zinger, but I am much more inclined to believe that Mandorallen is actually above the game and looking down on the kind of people who grasp and insinuate themselves close to royalty than I am Silk, who seems to relish playing the game, no matter how dirty, corrupt, or distasteful it is. I guess we’re supposed to think that his behavior in the fair, where the point was to score points and numbers rather than deal in wealth or power, means that Silk is beyond the game and no longer cares for it.

The real apparent reason for the trip to the market is apparently to witness more of Tolnedran politics at work.

“Kador’s a pig,” Haldor said flatly, carefully watching Radan as if gauging the impact of his words. “an arrogant, brutal pig with no more right to the throne than a mongrel dog. His great-grandfather bought his way into the House of Vordue, and I’d sooner open a vein than bow to the offspring of a sneak thief from the docks of Tol Vordue.”
Radan’s eyes almost started from his head at Haldor’s calculated insults. He opened his mouth several times as if trying to speak, but his tongue seemed frozen with fury. His face turned purple, and he clawed at the air in front of him. Then his body stiffened and began to arch backward.
Haldor watched him with an almost clinical detachment.
With a strangled cry, Radan toppled back onto the cobblestones, his arms and legs thrashing violently. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he began to foam at the mouth as his convulsions became more violent. He began to band his head on the stones, and his twitching fingers clutched at his throat.
“Amazing potency,” the third mantled man said to Haldor.
“Where did you find it?”
“A friend of mine recently made a voyage to Sthiss Tor,” Haldor said, watching Radan’s convulsions with interest. “The beautiful part of it is that it’s completely harmless unless one gets excited. Radan wouldn’t drink the wine until I tasted it first to prove that it was safe.”
“You’ve got the same poison in your own stomach?” the other man asked with astonishment.
“I’m quite safe,” Haldor said. “My emotions never get the best of me.”
Radan’s convulsions had grown weaker. His heels beat at the stones with a rapid pattering sound; then he stiffened, gave a long, gurgling sigh, and died.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any of the drug left, do you?” Haldor’s friend asked thoughtfully. “I’d be willing to pay quite a but for something like that.”
Haldor laughed. “Why don’t we go to my house, and we’ll talk about it? Over a cup of wine, perhaps?”
The other men threw him a startled glance, then he laughed too, although a bit nerviously. Th two of them turned and walked away, leaving the dead man sprawled on the stones

So there’s a Nyissan poison at work that supposedly doesn’t work unless someone gets excited, and while Haldor thinks that it’s only about emotional agitation, I’m pretty sure that anything that gets the adrenaline going or the blood pumping that will work. So Haldor will probably never run anywhere, do anything even moderately exerting, or any other such things that might speed the poison to its destination. Even so, I expect Haldor to die all the same, since I can’t imagine a poison that works on the stated mechanism that won’t also work on Haldor, even if it takes a little while longer to do so. So I hope he thought killing Radan was worth it.

Having witnessed all of this, Garion wants to know why someone isn’t doing anything about this, and Silk tells him that because it’s politics, people don’t want to appear involved. Polgara’s return has her note the corpse, correctly identify it as poison, and then know exactly what kind of poison it is (Athsat), and be surprised that it’s being used outside of Nyissa. Before that can be talked about further, though, Silk suggests the party leave the scene, because there are legionnaires coming and they might be interested in questioning any witnesses to what happened. So they all vanish.

As they are leaving the scene of the crime, a previous acquaintance, by happenstance, sees Silk and stops her litter to talk.

“Bethra?” Silk asked. “Is that you?”
The veil was drawn back, revealing a lushly endowed woman lounging on crimson satin cushions inside of the litter. Her dark hair was elaborately curled with strings of pearls woven into her tresses. Her pink silken gown clung to her body, and golden rings and bracelets clasped on her arms and fingers. Her face was breathtakingly beautiful, and her long-lashed eyes were wicked. There was about her a kind of overripeness and an almost overpowering sense of self-indulgent corruption. For some reason Garion felt himself blushing furiously.

That’s an interesting set of attributes to be able to discern from looking at someone, especially those “wicked” eyelashes. Also, this might be the most form-fitting outfit that Garion has seen a woman in over all his travels. And since we’ve already established that despite Pol’s attempts to keep him uninterested in sex or romance, Garion is, in fact, a teenager, and therefore that “some reason” as to why he’s blushing furiously might be because Bethra’s stacked and obviously unashamed of her body and Garion wasn’t raised in an environment where people show off so much. So I’m beginning to think that some of those descriptions that the narrative is ascribing to Bethra are Garion’s (or the narrative’s) prejudice showing through.

“I thought you’d still be running,” she said archly to Silk. “The men I sent after you were very professional.”
Silk bowed with an ironic little flourish. “They were quite good, Bethra,” he agreed with a wry grin. “Not quite good enough, but very good, actually. I hope you didn’t need them anymore.”
“I always wondered why they didn’t come back.” She laughed. “I should have known, of course. I hope you didn’t take it personally.”
“Certainly not, Bethra. It’s just part of the profession, after all.”
“I knew you’d understand,” she said. “I had to get rid of you. You were disrupting my entire plan.”
Silk grinned wickedly. “I know,” he gloated. “And after all you had to go through to set it up—and with the Thullish ambassador, no less.”
She made a disgusted face.
“Whatever happened to him?” Silk asked.
“He went swimming in the Nedrane.”
“I didn’t know that Thulls swam all that well.”
“They don’t—particularly not with large rocks tied to their feet. After you’d destroyed the whole thing, I didn’t really need him anymore, and there were some things I didn’t want him mentioning in certain quarters.”
“You were always prudent, Bethra.”
“What are you up to now?” she asked curiously.

This is somewhat curious to me whenever this shows up. It’s obvious that both of them know each other, and there’s intrigue involved, but much like how Silk characterized Asharak before we knew he was a Grolim and an antagonist in the last book, there’s this idea that the intelligence game will try to get people killed, but that it has nothing to do with the persons themselves and everything to do with what they’re trying to accomplish. There’s the idea that the true professionals of the business don’t carry grudges or personal issues into their work, and not being someone who works in intelligence, I can’t figure out whether or not this is an expected part of the game or not.

Also, the Angarak ambassadors are really getting it in Tol Honeth. First someone tries to sleep with the Nadrak ambassador’s wife (and loses his beard in the process), and now we find that the Thullish ambassador was killed after Silk blew up one of Bethra’s intrigues with him.

Silk asks Bethra for a favor so as to learn about the Murgos in town, what part they’re playing in the succession battle, and Bethra obliges, pointing out that there seems to be to Murgo factions, and that Grand Duke Kador, the one who seems to be most likely to succeed, is completely in the pocket of Asharak. As they’re talking about this, we get a wrinkle in our perception of the soul-corrupting red gold.

“There’s a great deal of red gold in Tol Honeth suddenly. My coin chests are full of it.”
Silk grinned. “It all spends.”
“It does indeed.”

Which would seem to suggest that the soul-corrupting greed effects don’t work on everyone, since both of them are talking about spending the gold instead of trying to get more of it. Based on how both Kheldar and Bethra have been described, it’s possible that the red gold effects don’t work on someone who’s already so corrupt they don’t have any morals in the first place. Or that they’re both so rich that they don’t directly handle the red gold and therefore aren’t exposed to its corruption effects. (Or someone has figured out the equivalent of a lead shield for the red gold and they trade whole boxes of shielded gold with the understanding they’re not to be opened, only weighed.)

Bethra and Kheldar finish up their conversation with Kheldar politely declining to see Bethra again, since they’re on a schedule, as it were, and Bethra reminding Kheldar that he owes her one, which he smiles and says he relishes the opportunity he’ll get to repay her. After Bethra leaves…

“Absolutely disgusting,” Durnik said in a voice strangled with outrage as the porters marched away with the litter. “Why is a woman like hat even permitted to stay in th city?”
“Bethra?” Silk asked in surprise. “She’s the most brilliant and fascinating woman in Tol Honeth. Men come from all over the world just for an hour or two with her.”
“For a price, of course,” Durnik said.
“Don’t misunderstand her, Durnik,” Silk told him. “Her conversation’s probably more valuable than—” He coughed slightly with a quick glance at Aunt Pol.
“Really?” Durnik questioned in a voice heavy with sarcasm.
Silk laughed. “Durnik,” he said, “I love you like a brother, but you’re a terrible prude, do you know that?”
“Leave him alone, Silk,” Aunt Pol said firmly. “I like him exactly the way he is.”
“I’m only trying to improve him, Lady Polgara,” Silk explained innocently.
“Barak’s right about you, Prince Kheldar,” she said. “You’re a very bad man.”
“It’s all in the line of duty. I sacrifice my more delicate feelings for the sake of my country.”
“Of course!”
“Surely you don’t imagine that I enjoy that sort of thing?”
“Why don’y we just let it drop?” she suggested.

Yep, Durnik’s prudery comes back out. At least he’s consistent about it any time there’s the possibility there’s a woman who does something other than stay in the kitchen and stay clothed in things that do not showcase scandalous ankles. Also, I think we’re supposed to see Bethra as a sex worker, in the way that she’s described and the way that Kheldar doesn’t say that Durnik is wrong in his thinking. Kheldar encourages Durnik and us to think of her as an information broker and political actor first, a courtesan second, and mostly in the service of the first. We keep having these situations where Durnik can’t see past the presentation or the forwardness or any other thing that gets him annoyed that women are allowed to be sexy in public, and everyone mostly just thinks of it as his hat and something that’s part of his charm, rather than something like that turning into a liability for the party in some way because Durnik expects everyone to follow his morality instead of their own. But since he is also apparently Polgara’s love interest, he’s an approved by the narrative character when he behaves like that.

The chapter closes out with the suggestion that since Asharak continues to be a thorn in the party’s side, they should just off him, but Belgarath nixes that thought, saying that it would be too noisy to do here, and that Asharak will give them another opportunity to get rid of him where it won’t be quite so inconvenient to explain why. So they decide to stay the night in Tol Honeth, which gives Grinneg the opportunity to feed them and to suggest they polish off the barrel of ale that has been opened for them. Belgarath is all for the drinking, claiming it’ll go to waste otherwise.

Chapter Eighteen opens with Belgarath having a hangover, so they did do the drinking, and any joy Belgarath got out of getting the ale and drinking it is negated by the smugness Pol has about his hangover and her continued rubbing in his face the fact that he has the hangover. They did manage to send for a ship to arrive that will take the party into Nyissa, figuring it’s probably easier to go see Salmissra about whatever it is that she wants rather than having to deal with emissaries sent to get them or hurt them. Not too long into their journey to the south toward that ship, they are overtaken by two travelers, one a young girl who doesn’t know enough about anything, including how to work a waterskin, and who also appears to have clumsily dyed her hair, the other the imperial tutor, Jeebers, whom the young woman refers to by name. (Which she also did when she was having a fit in the throne room in front of Ran Borune. As they say, OPSEC is difficult, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing.) The ruse is so bad that even Garion knows for certain that the young lady is lying about who she is, and he remembers the name Jeebers. The two ask to travel in the company of this party, and Polgara assents to it, since they’re headed in the same direction. The Imperial Hellion, when they stop, demands that Garion fetch water for her, which he refuses to do and then goes over to Polgara to air out his suspicions about who their traveling companions are. Polgara confirms his guess, and then, when the two ask to continue traveling in the company of the party, Polgara says it’s a good idea and okays it before anyone else can object.

Garion knew the idea was a mistake so serious that it bordered on disaster. Jeebers would not be a good traveling companion, and his pupil showed every sign of quickly becoming intolerable. She was obviously accustomed to extensive personal service, and her demands were probably made without thought. They were still demands, however, and Garion knew immediately who was most likely to be expected to attend to them. He got up and walked around to the far side of the clump of willows.The fields beyond the trees were pale green in the spring sunshine, and small white clouds drifted lazily across the sky. Garion leaned against a tree and gazed out at the fields without actually seeing them. He would not become a servant—no matter who their little guest might be. He wished there were some way he could get that firmly established right at the outset—before things got out of hand.

Sucks to be you Garion, because the person you have to convince of that is Polgara, and she’s spent way longer making sure you were (are?) her servant to decide that you aren’t going to be someone else’s servant. Knowing Polgara, she’d do it just to be sure that Garion doesn’t get any ideas in his head that he might be interested in the Ce’Nedra as a partner (even though they’re destined to be together, assuming Garion doesn’t do something that gets him killed before she turns 16).

Belgarath wants to know why they continue to travel with her.

“Have you lost your senses, Pol?” he heard Mister Wolf say somewhere behind him among the trees. “Ran Borune’s probably got every legion in Tolnedra looking for her by now.”
“This is my province, Old Wolf,” Aunt Pol told him. “Don’t interfere. I can manage things so we won’t be bothered by the legions.”
“We don’t have time to coddle her,” the old man said. “I’m sorry, Pol, but the child’s going to be an absolute little monster. You saw the way she acted toward her father.”
“It’s no great chore to break bad habits,” she said, unconcerned.
“Wouldn’t it be simpler just to arrange to have her taken back to Tol Honeth?”
“She’s already run away once,” Aunt Pol answered. “If we send her back, she’ll just run away again. I’ll feel much more comfortable having her Imperial little Highness where I can put my hands on her when I need her. When the proper time comes, I don’t want to have to take the world apart looking for her.”
Wolf sighed. “Have it your way, Pol.”
“Naturally.”
“Just keep the brat away from me,” he said. “She sets my teeth on edge. Do any of the others know who she is?”
“Garion does.”
“Garion? That’s surprising.”
“Not really,” Aunt Pol said. “He’s brighter than he looks.”
A new emotion began to grow in Garion’s already confused mind. Aunt Pol’s obvious interest in Ce’Nedra sent a sharp pand through him. With a certain amount of shame, he realized that he was jealous of the attention the girl was receiving.

That would be jealousy at being treated like a normal person worthy of respect, which Garion hasn’t gotten from Polgara basically ever. Except it isn’t actually treating her like a person, it’s treating her like another piece of the prophecy puzzle and wanting her close by for that. Despite that, I’ll still bet that even when Polgara is breaking Ce’Nedra’s bad habits, she treats an Imperial Princess better than the Rivan King’s heir.

Also, I disbelieve both that anyone would be surprised that Garion figured it out, given all the training he’s been getting about all of those things from Kheldar, and that Garion is the only one who has figured it out at this point, because Garion has been learning from others about this. Garion might be the only person who has actually said anything to Polgara, but if Garion’s got it figured out, I’d bet at least two of the three of Kheldar, Barak, and Mandorallen also know and probably recognized her for who she was fairly close to the beginning of their time together. Lelldorin would be the one I expect to record surprise at the eventual reveal, and he’s not here to play that role.

In the days that followed, Garion’s fears quickly proved to be well-founded. An inadvertent remark about Faldor’s farm had revealed quite early to the princess his former status as a scullery boy, and she used the knowledge heartlessly to browbeat him into a hundred stupid little errands every day. To make it all worse, each time he tried to resist, Aunt Pol would firmly remind him to pay more attention to his manners. Inevitably, he became quite surly about the whole business.

Does Garion end up saying “As you wish” to Ce’Nedra when those happens, because that’s what Pol demands of him? And she believes that it will turn out to work like Westley and Buttercup did? (Quick, where are the R..O.U.S.?) There certainly doesn’t seem to be any attempts at habit-breaking from Polgara, or trying to get Ce’Nedra to forget giving commands to people and instead asking or otherwise phrasing her demands so that they might be interpretable as requests. Or to back someone when they tell her no. Instead, Ce’Nedra gets to be the Imperial Princess she’s used to being, and Garion gets scolded for a lack of “manners” when he tries to protest that he’s not supposed to be anyone’s servant. So, it sounds like Polgara’s “manners” are mostly “do whatever a woman or girl tells you, or else I’ll hurt you and you’ll do it anyway.” Which is the same basic principle she raised Garion on the farm with, so she’s consistent, at least, with how much she should never be allowed to parent anyone at all.

After some more traveling, and a Sunday story of how Ce’Nedra’s stories get wilder and less believable reach time she tells them, were finally do get to the point where Polgara decides she’s finished pretending that the disguise has fooled her. Anyone hoping for the Imperial Hellion to be firmly put in her place, though, is going to be disappointed.

“I believe, little lady,” Aunt Pol told the girl when they had all dismounted, “that the time has come for you to tell us the truth.”
“But I have,” Ce’Nedra protested.
“Oh, come now, child,” Aunt Pol said. “Those stories of yours have been very entertaining, but you don’t actually think anyone believed them, do you? Some of us already know who you are, but I really think we should get it out in the open.”
“You know?” Ce’Nedra faltered.
“Of course, dear,” Aunt Pol said. “Would you like to tell them, or shall i?”
Ce’Nedrea’s little shoulders drooped. “Tell them who I am, Master Jeebers,” she ordered quietly.
“Do you really think that’s wise, your Ladyship?” Jeebers asked nervously.
“They already know anyway,” she said. “If they were going to do anything to us, they’d have done it a long time ago. We can trust them.”
Jeebers drew in a deep breath and then spoke rather formally. “I have the honor to introduce her Imperial Highness, the Princess Ce’Nedra, daughter to his Imperial Majesty, Ran Borune XXIII, and the jewel of the house of Borune.”
Silk whistled, and his eyes widened momentarily. The others showed similar signs of amazement.

No they didn’t, unless they’re playing it up for Ce’Nedra. Silk, especially, since he’s the intelligence and intrigue specialist, should not be reacting with any kind of surprise or amazement at this, unless his whistle is supposed to be sarcasm at the length of Ce’Nedra’s official title.

Also, we note tha Ce’Nedra does not actually tell them herself, but delegates the job to Jeebers, which certainly seems in keeping with her characterization of a spoiled brat. If there had been actual work at breaking her of bad habits to this point, Ce’Nedra would have told Jeebers to do it, and Polgara would have stopped him and specifically told Ce’Nedra to introduce herself, instead of expecting other people to do everything for her.

There’s one more deception to be uncovered in this, and it’s who gave the orders that set this in motion. The way this sequence writes, it’s either that Ce’Nedra can do things correctly when she puts her mind to it, or the Jeebers is veyr easy to manipulate, and it’s probably the latter.

“The Emperor commissioned me to convey his daughter safely here to Tol Borune where the members of the Borune family can protect her from the plots and machinations of the Vordues, the Honeths, and the Horbites.

Wait, hang on, so the imperial capital is in the city of the Honeths (Tol Honeth), but the emperor is a Borune? That seems remarkably sketchy, actually. Given the propensity of Tolnedrans for politics, it seems like the capital would move with the imperial dynasties, like the difference between Osaka and Edo as capitals of Imperial Japan. Or, because of that propensity for politics, there’s a specifically designated Imperial Capital (Tol Nedra) that all the courtiers and their prized family members are required to be at for long enough in the year as to not give them time to plot rebellions and assassinations against the Emperor. This place gets weirder the more we stay here. (Probably because it’s a backdrop painting of cosplay Rome.)

Anyway. Jeebers continues.

“I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to execute my commission rather brilliantly—with your help, of course. I’ll mention your assistance in my report—a footnote, perhaps, or maybe even an appendix.”
Barak pulled on his beard, his eyes thoughtful. “An Imperial Princess travels across half of Tolnedra with only a schoolmaster for protection?” he questioned. “At a time when they’re knifing and poisoning each other in the streets?”
“It does seem a trifle risky, doesn’t it?” Hettar agreed.
“Did thine Emperor charge thee with this task in person?” Mandorallen asked Jeebers.
“It wasn’t necessary,” Jeebers said stiffly. “His Majesty has a great deal of respect for my judgment and discretion. He knew that I’d be able to devise a safe disguise and a secure mode of travel. The princess assured me of his absolute confidence in me. It all had to be done in utmost secrecy, of course. That’s why she came to my chambers in the middle of the night to advise me of his instructions and why we left the palace without telling anyone what we were—” His voice trailed off, and he stared at Ce’Nedra in horror.
“You might as well tell him, dear,” Aunt Pol advised the little princess. “I think he’s guessed already.”
Ce’Nedra’s chin lifted arrogantly. “The orders came from me, Jeebers,” she told him. “My father had nothing to do with it.”

In the hands of a different author, this could be the crack in the façade, where we see that Ce’Nedra’s Imperial Brat routine is Obfuscating Stupidity, and she’s actually quite competent at politics, having known to press Jeebers when he was half-asleep with a plausible story that appealed to his ego and didn’t throw up any obvious red flags, with this planned bad disguise and bad lying meant to disclose her identity to the group that she knows can best protect her along the way to Tol Borune. Someone should notice and comment on this possibility, even if only to themselves. (Or the dry voice could give Garion a warning about how that Princess is not the spoiled brat she appears to be.) But instead, we go right back to the spoiled princess.

“The question’s to the point, though,” Hettar observed. “If we’re caught with an Imperial Princess in our company, we’ll all see the inside of a Tolnedran dungeon.” He turned to Ce’Nedra. “Do you have an answer, or were you just playing games?”
She drew herself up haughtily. “I’m not accustomed to explaining my actions to servants.”
“Just answer the question, dear,” Aunt Pol told the girl. “Never mind who asked it.”
“My father had imprisoned me in he palace,” Ce’Nedra said in a rather offhand way, as if that explained everything. “It was intolerable, so I left. There’s another matter, too, but that’s a matter of politics. You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’d probably be surprised at what we’d understand, Ce’Nedra,” Mister Wolf told her.
“I’m accustomed to being addressed as my Lady,” she said tartly, “or as your Highness.”
“And I’m accustomed to being told the truth.”
“I thought you were in charge,” Ce’Nedra said to Silk.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Silk observed blandly. “I’d answer the question.”
“It’s an old treaty,” she said. “I didn’t sign it, so I don’t see why I should be bound by it. I’m supposed to present myself in the throne room at Riva on my sixteenth birthday.”
“We know that,” Barak said impatiently. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m not going, that’s all,” Ce’Nedra answered. “I won’t go to Riva, and no one can make me go. The queen in the Wood of the Dryads is my kinswoman and she’ll give me sanctuary.”
Jeebers ahd partially recovered. “What have you done?” he demanded, aghast. “I undertook this with the clear understanding that I’d be rewarded—even promoted. You’ve put my head on the block, you little idiot!”
“Jeebers!” she cried, shocked at his words.

I really feel like the appropriate thing from Ce’Nedra at that point would be “You were a terrible schoolmaster anyway,” or some other thing that would make it clearer that she knew what the consequences of this would be and she doesn’t particularly care whether Jeebers loses his head over it. That would be both in character with the political schemer and the spoiled princess. Instead, it sounds like she’s quite surprised to be called an idiot so bluntly. Surely there must be others who have done this, even if they suffered consequences for it. I can’t see Ran Borune being the kind of person that would shelter her so thoroughly from outside opinions that being called an idiot by her teacher surprises her this much.

And then, after everyone has decided to pull off the road and camp for the night, we have this situation, which I feel is more indicative of Polgara’s character than anything else.

The fish, it appeared, were ravenous and attacked the worm-baited hooks in schools. Within the space of an hour nearly two dozen respectable-sized trout lay in a gleaming row on the grassy bank of the pond.
Aunt Pol inspected their catch gravely when they returned as the sky turned rosy overhead with the setting of the sun. “Very nice,” she told them, “but you forgot to clean them.”
“Oh,” Barak said. He looked slighly pained. “We thought that—well, what I mean is—as long as we caught them—” He left it hanging.
“Go on,” she said with a level gaze.
Barak sighed. “I guess we’d better clean them,” he regretfully told Durnik and Garion.
“You’re probably right,” Durnik agreed.
The sky turned purple with evening, and the stars had begun to come out when they sat down to eat. Aunt Pol had fried the trout to a crisp golden brown, and even the sulky little princess found nothing to complain about as she ate.

Right, so who of those four is the one most likely to be able to clean a fish correctly so that it can be cooked? The warrior, the smith, the kitchen boy, or the mistress of the kitchen herself? And Barak has a point, in that he and Durnik expended the effort in catching the trout, so there should be some effort expended by others to help prepare the food for consumption. Where this probably should have landed is with all four of them pitching in to clean the fish, once Polgara notes that if they want to eat tonight, instead of tomorrow morning, she’s going to need help with cleaning the catch. But instead we get “Polgara doesn’t want to do this, so she doesn’t by holding firm against Barak, who isn’t going to press her that hard since she might turn him into a newt.” That’s quite the example to set for Ce’Nedra, isn’t it?

And, as if to anticipate that possibility, right after, we have Polgara as an equal-opportunity not-caring person. Jeebers has run away in the night, and Polgara is glad that she convinced him to do so.

“You have to stop him then,” Ce’Nedra said in a ringing voice. “Go after him! Bring him back!”
“After all the trouble I went to persuading him to leave?” Aunt Pol asked. “Don’t be foolish.”
“How dare you speak to me like that?” Ce’Nedra demanded. “You seem to forget who I am.”
“Young lady,” Silk said urbanely, “I think you’d be amazed at how little Polgara’s concerned about who you are.”
“Polgara?” Ce’Nedra faltered. “The Polgara? I thought you said that she was your sister.”
“I lied,” Silk confessed. “It’s a vice I have.”
“You’re not an ordinary merchant,” the girl accused him.
“He’s Prince Kheldar of Drasnia,” Aunt Pol said. “The others have a similar eminence. I’m sure you can see how little your title impresses us. We have our own titles, so we know how empty they are.”

Having revealed the identity of the traveling companions, Ce’Nedra wonders if they’re there to do something about the succession, which Belgarath dismisses as typical Tolnedran thinking that the world revolves around them. The chapter closes with Polgara informing Ce’Nedra that since they’re going in the direction of the Dryad Wood anyway, they’ll stop by and say hello and see what Queen Xantha has to say about the whole affair.

“Am I to consider myself a prisoner then?” the princess asked stiffly.
“You can if it makes you feel better, dear,” Aunt Pol said. She looked at the tiny girl critically in the flickering firelight. “I’m going to have to do something about your hair, though. What did you use for dye? It looks awful.”

Because we can’t let the chapter expire without Polgara taking another shot at someone younger than her.

Also, based on what Ce’Nedra just said about having a Dryad for a kinswoman, and what’s been said before about the lack of an X consonant in Tolnedran writing, I have to wonder how Polgara pronounced Xantha’s name to make it so clearly distinct instead of it being rendered as Ce’antha. Which is still entirely too much thinking about something that was supposed to be a big secret reveal somewhere along the way, but I’m curious. Does Polgara get the X because her first language had it, or because Sendarian has it, and Ce’Nedra is Ce’ because we’re giving deference to the Tolnedran language? Y’know, worldbuilding!

Anyway, wow, that was a long chapter. Now with the Imperial Brat in tow, I’ll bet we get to see the Dryads next week. So don’t expect any action or progress on the main quest.

Queen of Sorcery: Nobody Listens

Last time, the party was captured by a count who is very clearly unfit to rule anything, having been completely usurped by his Nyissan advisor, Y’diss. Whether the count is having his mind addled by the Nyissan drugs or is being kept alive by those drugs so that he still stays nominally in charge even though he’s too senile to actually rule, the point of the entire trip was essentially for the author to introduce that there’s another faction at play, even though there’s no actual reason introduced as to why that faction is involved. After being captured, Silk breaks out the party, they get to bash in some heads, Polgara imposed at least a severe illness if not death on torturers, and they escaped, got to Tol Honeth, and have an audience before Ran Borune, Emperor of Tolnedra.

Right in the middle of a succession crisis, since Ran Borune only has a daughter, who is supposed to be a terrible hellion.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapter Sixteen: Content Notes:

So Chapter 16 begins with Grineg, ambassador of Cherek, asking for the audience, and Lord Morin, the chamberlain, in showing them to the Emperor, lets us know that Ran Borune is still in good health and aggravated that his family members seem to be fleeing him and the capital in droves, protecting their own skin against the upcoming fight rather than sticking around to the end with him. The party is asked to disarm.

They all followed his example, and Lord Morin’s eyes flickered slightly with surprise when Silk removed three different daggers from various places beneath his garments.—Formidable equipment.— the chamberlain’s hands flickered in the gestures of the secret language.
—Troubled times— Silk’s fingers explained deprecatingly.

Which really makes me think that the “secret” language is really much more like any other sign language – those who have a desire to learn it, do, and others don’t, because they don’t feel the need for secret sign language.

So they go in to see Ran Borune XXIII, Emperor of Tolnedra, who is feeding a canary seeds, and somewhat cross that he’s being interrupted when he specifically didn’t want to be interrupted. Not cross enough to avoid making a joke at Grinneg’s expense, mind you.

“His eyes grew sly, almost malicious. “I see that your beard’s beginning to grow back, Grinneg.”
Grinneg’s face flushed slowly. “I should have known that your Majesty would have heard of my little misfortune.”
“I know everything that happens in Tol Honeth, Lord Grinneg,” the Emperor snapped. “Even if all my cousins and nephews are running like rats out of a burning house, I still have a few faithful people around me. Whatever possessed you to take up with that Nadrak woman? I thought you Alorns despised Angaraks.”
Grinneg coughed awkwardly and glanced quickly at Aunt Pol. “It was a kind of joke, your Majesty,” he said. “I thought it might embarrass the Nadrak ambassador—and his wife is, after all, a handsome-looking woman. I didn’t know she kept a pair of scissors under the bed.”
“She keeps your beard in a little gold box, you know.” The Emperor smirked. “And she shows it to all her friends.”
“She’s an evil woman,” Grinneg said mournfully.

I’m not sure it’s been established before this that a Cherek’s beard is his manhood, but it’s a nice way of slipping it in, even if it is in a story about how the Cherek ambassador thought he would embarrass the Nadrak ambassador by seducing his wife. And nobody says one way or another about whether or not Grinneg succeeded, just that he lost his beard, and presumably, more standing than the Nadrak ambassador did by having his wife screwed by someone other than himself. I think this might also contribute some to the casual attitude toward adultery that Belgarath had, because there definitely seems to be a willingness to go after who they think of as their inferiors.

Introductions continue, but once Barak is introduced,

Ran Borune looked sharply at each of the rest in turn as if actually seeing them for the first time. “And this would be Prince Kheldar of Drasnia,” he said, “who left Tol Honeth in a hurry the last time he was here—posing as an acrobat in a traveling circus, I believe, and about one jump ahead of the police.”
Silk also bowed politely.
“And Hettar of Algaria,” the Emperor continued, “the man who’s trying to depopulate Cthol Murgos single-handedly.”
Hettar inclined his head.
“Morin,” the Emperor demanded sharply, “why have you surrounded me with Alorns? I don’t like Alorns.”
“It’s this matter of urgency, your Majesty,” Morin replied apologetically.
“And an Arend?” the Emperor said, looking at Mandorallen. “A Mimbrate, I should say.” His eyes narrowed. “From the description I’ve heard, he could only be the Baron of Vo Mandor.”
Mandorallen’s bow was gracefully elaborate. “Thine eye is most keen, your Majesty, to have read us each in turn without prom[ting.”
“No all of you precisely,” the Emperor said. “I don’t recognize the Sendar or the Rivan lad.”

Garion goes “that’s not the first time someone’s called me a Rivan,” but he looks at Polgara for confirmation, and she’s not going to give him anything, intently examining a rosebush. Ran Borune tries to put his finger on why he should recognize Garion, but the canary comes bursting through and alights on Polgara’s finger, chirping up a storm, which keeps the conversation off of Garion. Belgarath introduces himself and Polgara, and Ran Borune says “yeah, right.” Unlike the Arends, though, Belgarath doesn’t perform any immediate miracle, but instead chides the Emperor for not having any wonder any more. When Ran Borune asks what the canary is talking about, Polgara says it’s the first day he learned to fly, which is super important for canaries. Ran Borune still doesn’t actually believe them still, and when Zereel, the court wizard arrives (Ran Borune sent for him after Belgarath scolded him for not having wonder), Zereel is also skeptical of the claim.

“Belgarath and Polgara?” the bushy-haired man scoffed. “Surely your Majesty isn’t serious. The names are mythological. No such people exist.”
“You see,” the Emperor said to Aunt Pol. “You don’t exist. I have it on the very best authority. Zereel’s a wizard himself, you know.”
“Really?”
“One of the very best,” he assured her. “Of course, most of his tricks are just sleight of hand, since sorcery’s only a sham, but he amuses me—and he takes himself very seriously. You may proceed, Zereel, but try not to raise an awful stink, the way you usually do.”

That’s not magic, that’s prestidigitation. Which is to say, this is the second time we’ve had this situation of “the magic that someone claims to have is really sleight of hand” in a world where there are regular occurrences of actual reality-warping. And while Ran Borune is supposed to be a smark (the “smart mark” – the person who knows the professional wrestling is scripted and the results have already been determined) compared to the situation where Islena was just trying to put one over on others, I’m feeling pretty annoyed that we don’t have much more explicit separation of “this is a supernatural event” and “this is someone doing sleight of hand” in the terminology. Unless “sorcery” is supposed to be the catch-all for supernatural events. At which point, I would think the term to be used is sorcerer, but instead, we get wizard used in these spaces. Which, y’know, “wizard” as the idea of someone who has too much wiz (a smartass know-it-all) does definitely apply here to a whole bunch of people with regard to this entire sequence, the looseness of language feels like it deserves some snark or at least acknowledgement here.

“That won’t be necessary, our Majesty,” Zereel said flatly. “If they were wizards of any kind, I’d have recognized them immediately. We have special ways of communicating, you know.”
Aunt Pol looked at the wizard with one eyebrow slightly raised. “I think that you should look a bit closer, Zereel,” she suggested. “Sometimes we miss things.” She made an almost imperceptible gesture, and Garion seemed to hear a faint rush of sound.
The wizard stared, his eyes fixed on open air directly in front of him. His eyes began to bulge, and his face turned deathly pale. As if his legs had been cut from under him, he fell onto his face. “Forgive me, Lady Polgara,” he croasked, groveling.
“That’s supposed to impress me, I assume,” the Emperor sad. “I’ve seen men’s minds overwhelmed before, however, and Zereel’s mind isn’t all that strong to begin with.”
“This is getting tiresome, Ran Borune,” she said tartly.
“You really ought to believe her, you know.” The canary spoke in a tiny, piping voice. “I knew who she was immediately—of course we’re much more perceptive than you things that creep around on the ground—why do you do that? If you’d just try, I’m sure you’d be able to fly. And I wish you’d stop eating so much garlic—it makes you smell awful.”
“Hush, now,” Aunt Pol said gently to the bird. “You can tell him all about it later.”
The Emperor was trembling violently, and he stared at the bird as if it were a snake.
“Why don’t we all just behave as if we believed that Polgara and I are who we say we are?” Mister Wolf suggested. “We could spend the rest of the day trying to convince you, and we really don’t have that much time. There are some things I have to tell you, and they’re important—no matter who I am.”
“I think I can accept that,” Ran Borune said, still trembling and staring at the now-silent canary.

I have to wonder how Ran Borune has seen these things, and by what method he’s seen them, so much so that in seeing it happen, he seems entirely unperturbed that it happened in his presence. But then when the canary starts talking, it’s the thing that properly unnerves him and gets Ran Borune to believe that they are the people they claim to be. What is it about the bird speaking that gets him? We don’t know, and nobody is talking about it.

On the actual plot, Ran Borune gets the summary version of the Orb getting stolen, that they’re tracking Zedar through the places he’s been with it, and that the Alorn kingdoms and the Arends are preparing for war, and Ran Borune might want to do the same.

“I’ll send emissaries at once,” Ran Borune said. “This has to be headed off before it gets out of hand.”
“It’s a little late for that,” Barak said grimly. “Anheg and the others aren’t in any mood for Tolnedran diplomacy right now.”
“Your people have a bad reputation in the north, your Majesty,” Silk pointed out. “They always seem to have a few trade agreements up their sleeves. Every time Tolnedra mediates a dispute, it seems to cost a great deal. I don’t think we can afford your good offices anymore.”
A cloud passed in front of the sun, and the garden seemed suddenly chilly in its shadow.
“This is being blown out of proportion,” the Emperor protested. “The Alorns and the Angaraks have been squabbling over that worthless stone for thousands of years. You’ve been waiting for the chance to fall on each other, and now you’ve got an excuse. Well, enjoy yourselves. Tolnedra’s not going to get involved as long as I’m her Emperor.”
[…Polgara says there’s no sitting this one out…]
“Your Empire’s crawling with Murgos. They could overrun you in a week.”
“They’re honest merchants—here on honest business.”
“Murgos don’t have honest business,” Aunt Pol told him. “Every Murgo in Tolnedra is here because he was sent by the Grolim High Priest.”
“That’s an exaggeration,” Ran Borune said stubbornly. “The whole world knows that you and your father have an obsessive hatred of all Angaraks, but times have changed.”

And we are again in the situation where all the Murgos we might meet are Grolims instead, even though supposedly they’re separate entities.

Ran Borune still refuses to change his mind, bringing up the situation that happened in the prologue of this book about how Tolnedra was treated “like a defeated enemy after Vo Mimbre” and so he’s not actually going to change his Empire based on Alorn feelings. He suggests that they might have better luck with his successor, who can probably be bribed.

Then Ce’Nedra storms in, although she’s not named yet, has a tantrum about not being able to go out herself, not wanting to send anyone out to get things for her, and not wanting to study with Jeebers, her personal tutor. She tries to put the charm on Ran Borune. “The look she directed at the Emperor through her lashed would have melted stone.” Ran Borune refuses to look, and Ce’Nedra storms off in tears after declaring her hate for her father. And that’s our first introduction to the Imperial Hellion. Many terrifying, much wow.

Ran Borune is sufficiently unmoved by her actions that he pivots immediately into trying to make a deal with Belgarath.

“There’s really no necessity for Ce’Nedra to journey to Riva, is there? I’m the last emperor of the Borune Dynasty, and when I die, she won’t be an Imperial Princess anymore. Under the circumstances, I’d say that the requirement doesn’t really apply to her. It’s nonsense anyway. The line of the Rivan King became extinct thirteen hundred years ago, so there isn’t going to be any bridgeroom waiting for her in the Hall of the Rivan King. As you’ve seen, Tolnedra’s a very dangerous place just now. Ce’Nedra’s sixteenth birthday’s only a year or so off, and the date’s well known. If I have to send her to Riva, half the assassins in he Empire are going to b lurking outside the palace gates, waiting for her to come out. I’d rather not take that kind of risk. If you could see your way clear to speak to the Alorns, I might be able to make a few concessions regarding the Murgos—restrictions on their number, closed areas, that sort of thing.”
“No, Ran Borune,” Aunt Pol said flatly. “Ce’Nedra will go to Riva. You’ve failed to understand that the Accords are only a formality. If your daughter’s the one destined to become the bride of the Rivan King, no force on earth can prevent her from being in the throne room at Riva on the appointed day. My father’s recommendations about the Murgos are only suggestions—for your own good. What you choose to do about the matter is your affair.”
“I think we’ve just about exhausted the possibilities of this conversation,” the Emperor stated coldly.

I would have liked other kings of the countries to be more like Ran Borune in their disbelief about Grolim plots and Angarak gold. He’s been the most effective refutation and has the best reasons to disbelieve in Belgarath and to want to keep good relations with the Angarak kingdoms and their trade, especially in a situation where having a significant amount of money on your side is helpful for keeping yourself alive in the turmoil of the succession. In the alternate story where the current party really are the villains, Ran Borune’s arguments and suggestions would have to be dealt with, because he’s making a lot of sound logical points about why he shouldn’t believe a word of what he’s being told. He even has a prejudice against the Alorns and Arends that treated his empire like crap, in his opinion, at Vo Mimbre. (It couldn’t have been that bad, though, because they still have the highways that the can staff with legions and hostels.) Since the narrative is on Garion’s side, and Garion is on Belgarath’s side, we get Ran Borune being portrayed as stubborn and unable to take advice, but it wouldn’t be hard to see his position or have what narration would be like from a point of view sympathetic to Ran Borune.

To run off on a tangent, I emphatically dislike Ce’Nedra’s name. Mostly because on first blush, it seems to be the kind of name that would translate to “Of Nedra” or “Nedra’s”, in the same way that the women of The Handmaid’s Tale are “Of Fred” or “Of Joshua”, the kind of thing hat has erased their agency to the point where they’re not even allowed to have a name of their own, and are instead referred solely by the relationship they have to a man. Nedra, after all is the name of the god of these people. Tol Nedra, the name of the country, presumably, means something like “Place of Nedra” or something similar, so “Ce’Nedra” presumably follows a similar naming scheme, placing her as an entire person in relation to Nedra, the god. I realize that people of our own age have names that are direct references to the Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton or similar possessives or devotions related in that way, fairly obviously for me in Christian and Muslim names. I suppose this fantasy Rome could be the fantasy Rome that’s already had the official change from many gods to a singular one, but there’s no detail in any of this that we could hang this suggestion on and have it support the possibility. We’re probably supposed to recite the MST3K Mantra through all of these books and not peer too closely at any of this, lest we tip over the set and expose how shallowly the world is built.

Ce’Nedra’s name just doesn’t fit her. Especially since she’s supposed to be the Imperial Hellion, the strong-willed, tantrum-throwing girl who everyone has to strike a fine balance between giving her what she wants, which makes it less likely for someone to die from Imperial Princesss’s orders and revenge, and doing what the Emperor demanded, because that keeps you from dying by Imperial Emperor’s edict instead. So far, it doesn’t seem like she’s ordered executions of people who have pissed her off, or had her own loyal assassins take them out (or at least try, they might not actually go through with it because Ran Borune will do far worse to them for carrying out that order than Princess Ce’Nedra will do for them refusing to finish it), or otherwise showcase that she knows how much power she can wield and that she’s unafraid of using it to her own personal ends. About the only way this name would work is if it translated to something like “Nedra’s delight” or some other thing that’s supposed to praise her eventual womanly virtues or other social graces, and instead she flounces in and out, throwing tantrums and wearing scandalously inappropriate clothing for Imperial audiences or public appearances. Some contrast here would be appreciated, or something that showcases why the customs agent was so up in irritation about her in addition to the amount of bribe money he keeps having to put up.

Also, the whole thing about the Tolnedran Princess having to present herself on her sixteenth birthday to see whether or not she’s going to be married to the Rivan King? That really does sound like someone treating another state as if they were on the losing side, even though Tolnedra fought against the Angaraks. We only got the summary version of it in the prologue, but it sounds like the Tolnedran representative to the peace and partition talks really pissed everyone else around him off to the point where they demanded something to make sure that there was an easy way of establishing someone else’s claim to the throne of Tolnedra just in case they pissed everyone around them off enough that they wanted to crush or force a regime change in the Empire. Which also makes me wonder why they didn’t do it at least once when there was a particularly terrible Emperor occupying the spot. Unification of the Kingdom of Riva and the Empire of Tolnedra so that they’re less arrogant pricks about everything, and to make sure that when the time comes, Tolnedra will be sympathetic to the Alorns and Arends, rather than to the Angaraks and their trade agreements. Even here, in the place that’s supposed to have the most politics all the time, there’s not actually a whole lot of politics going on, and there doesn’t seem to be any other type of politics going on than local politics.

Getting back to the plot, before the party leaves, however, Lord Morin reappears and says there’s been a trade deal forged with a group of visiting Murgos and that they would like to pay their respects before departing. Which allows us to have Asharak the Grolim reappear into the narrative, and in a place where he can’t be directly violenced. Garion feels Asharak brush his mind, lightly, but the amulet is both burning and very cold in response, and nothing happens. Asharak looks around and sees the other people in the space, and takes the opportunity to tweak them.

“Well, Ambar,” he said to Silk, “your fortunes seem to have improves since we met last in Mingan’s counting room in Darine.”
Silk spread his hands in an innocent-looking gesture. “The Gods have been kind—most of them, anyway.”
Asharak smiled briefly.
“You know each other?” the Emperor asked, a bit surprised.
“We’ve met, your Majesty,” Silk admitted.
“In another kingdom,” Asharak added. He looked directly then at Mister Wolf. “Belgarath,” he said politely with a brief nod.
“Chamdar,” the old man replied.
“You’re looking well.”
“Thank you.”
“It seems that I’m the only stranger here,” the Emperor said.

Well, so is the reader, since the narrative did its best to not have us make the connection between the two names and people until now. So Chamdar, a Grolim High Priest, is also Asharak, the Grolim that has been on the trail of the party for this entire time. Also, this is yet another one of those situations where the conservation of characters actually makes Chamdar seem remarkably clever, having disguised himself as Asharak and manages to fool even the paranoid Alorns into not recognizing him.

“Chamdar and I have known each other for a very long time,” Mister Wolf told him. He glanced at the Murgo with a faintly malicious twinkle in his eyes. “I see that you’ve managed to recover from your recent indisposition.”
Asharak’s face flickered with annoyance, and he looked quickly at his shadow on the grass as if for reassurance
Garion remembered what Wolf had said atop the tor after the attack of the Algroths—something about a shadow returning by an “indirect route.” For some reason the information that Asharak the Murgo and Chamdar the Grolim were the same man did not particularly surprise him. Like a complex melody that had been faintly out of tune, the sudden merging of the two seemed right somehow. The knowledge clicked in his mind like a key in a lock.
“Someday you’ll have to show me how you did that,” Asharak was saying. “I found the experience interesting. My horse had hysterics, however.”
“My apologies to your horse.”
“Why is it that I feel as if I’m missing about half of this conversation?” Ran Borune asked.
“Forgive us, your Majesty,” Asharak said. “Ancient Belgarath and I are renewing an old enmity. We’ve seldom had the opportunity to speak to each other with any degree of civility.” He turned and bowed politely to Aunt Pol. “My Lady Polgara. You’re as beautiful as ever.” He eyed her with a deliberately suggestive stare.
[…There are yet more veiled threats with each other, with Ran Borune treating it as better entertainment than a play. Belgarath asks to withdraw.…]
“Of course,” the Emperor replied. “I’m pleased to have met you—though I still don’t believe in you, naturally. My skepticism, however, is theological, not personal.”
“I’m glad of that,” Wolf said, and quite suddenly he grinned impishly at the Emperor.
Ran Borune laughed.
“I look forward to our next meeting, Belgarath,” Asharak said.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Wolf advised him, then turned and led the way out of the Emperor’s garden.

And that closes out Chapter Sixteen, where despite the evidence of his lying eyes, and being told by someone who has no reason to lie that the person in front of him is that Belgarath, Ran Borune decides that it can’t be that Belgarath, because he doesn’t believe in the existence of the Eternal Man, and that these are just very good sorcerers.

It seems like the hook of the Tour so far has been sequentially trying to convince all the appropriate kings that this is a serious threat, and all of them behaving in one way or another to show their disbelief in the matter, necessitating a certain amount of restoring their faith and getting them to agree by exposing a plot that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. (Except for the soul-corrupting gold, but again, pincushion any and all Murgos on sight sounds like a very sensible policy to adopt.) I think we’ve finally run out of rulers who might be sympathetic, so maybe now the Tour can run faster now that they don’t actually have to stop to try and convince anyone and can instead hack, slash, and spell their way through obstacles that get in their way.

Next week, maybe they finally get back on the trail of trying to find the Orb of Aldur?

Queen of Sorcery: A Detour Of No Sense

Last time, the party crossed into Tolnedra, leaving behind the cosplayers of Latin Christendom and joining the cosplayers of Classical Rome, where there is bribery as a matter of business and a power struggle happening for the new Emperor that is swinging a large amount of money and violence around in Tolnedran spaces. Before going all that far, however, the party was waylaid by the soldiers of a Count whose territory they were passing through and are set to be brought before him.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen: Content Notes:

It becomes immediately evident, however, that Count Dravor did not, in fact, send for them.

“The prisoners, my Lord,” the three-fingered soldier explained. “The ones you ordered arrested.”
“Did I order someone arrested?” the count asked, his voice still slurred. “What a remarkable thing for me to do. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you, my friends.”
“We were a bit surprised, that’s all,” Silk said carefully.
“I wonder why I did that.” The count pondered. “I must have had a reason—I never do anything without a reason. What have you done wrong?”
“We haven’t done anything wrong, my Lord,” Silk assured him.
“Then why would I have you arrested? There must be some sort of mistake.”
“That’s what we thought, my Lord,” Silk said.
[…the count offers dinner, they decline, and the soldier decides to help out…]
“Perhaps your steward Y’diss may remember the reason these people were detained, my Lord,” the three-fingered soldier suggested.
“Of course,” the count said. “Why didn’t I think of that? Y’diss remembers everything. Please send for him at once.”

And so we meet the real power behind this particular space, a Nyissan who placates the count and then draws them all aside so that he can tell them Salmissra has demanded that all of them be delivered up to Shiss Tor so she can personally…something. Y’diss denies accusations that the Nyissans and the Grolims are working together, but we only have his denials as evidence for this. Y’diss isn’t telling anything useful to us, but in the meantime, he has some questions that he wants answered, and he’s more than willing to torture them to get those answers.

“The torments, however, will wear down your will—and provide entertainment for my servants. Good torturers are hard to find, and they grow sullen if they aren’t allowed to practice—I’m sure you understand. Later, after you’ve all had the chance to visit with them a time or two, we’ll try something else. Nyissa abounds with roots and leaves and curious little berries with strange properties. Oddly enough, most men prefer the rack or the wheel to my little concoctions.” Y’diss laughed then, a brutal sound with no mirth in it. “We’ll discuss all this further after I have the count settled in for the night. For right now, the guards will take you downstairs to the places I’ve prepared for you all.”

So, Y’diss is running a torture factory in the cellars of this particular place, and I’m beginning to feel like the Nyissans are another Always Cartoonish Evil race that shouldn’t be outside the boundaries of Nyissa proper, if what they enjoy doing is torturing people and coming up with poisons and other consciousness-altering things. I expect them to do brisk business in trade, but not to be let outside the borders of their country.

Plot-wise, Garion hears things that suggest people rattling their chains and laughter and moaning, and it’s getting to him when Silk pops in, cursing at how long it took him to pick the lock because it’s rusty af. Which is a fairly constant complaint of Silk’s as he works his way through picking all the other locks. Belgarath and Polgara snark at all the unnecessary conversation going on while they’re trying to jailbreak, but they don’t really have to worry, as Barak has already bashed the heads of the guards so they’re insensate. While Polgara would like to have a longer and fruitful conversation with Y’diss, Belgarath says it doesn’t matter, that the only important thing to know is Salmissra’s involved in this now. They pass by a conversation in progress.

“Did he die?” a voice, shockingly loud, asked from behind a barred door that emitted a smoky red light.
“No,” another voice said, “only fainted. You pulled too hard on the lever. You have to keep the pressure steady. Otherwise they faint, and you have to start over.”
“This is a lot harder than I thought,” the first voice complained.
“You’re doing fine,” the second voice said. “The rack’s always tricky. Just remember to keep a steady pressure and not to jerk the lever. They usually die if you pull their arms out of the sockets.”
Aunt Pol’s face went rigid, and her eyes blazed briefly. She mad e asmall gesture and whispered something. A brief, hushed sound murmured in Garion’s mind.

Ah, so they can be quiet when they want to be. They just usually don’t want to be.

“You know,” the first voice said rather faintly, “suddenly, I don’t feel so good.”
“Now that you mention it, I don’t either,” the second voice agreed. “Did that meat we had for supper taste all right to you?”
“It seemed all right.” There was a long pause. “I really don’t feel good at all.”

And here’s another one of those spaces where I think the creative ways of killing someone could come into play, because they could end up forever vomiting out whatever they eat, or more painfully and destructively, having everything they eat immediately turn into explosive bowel issues, which could kill them through dehydration particularly painfully.

Having upset the torturers in the middle of their work, the party has to fairly quickly hide from an incoming group of guards, where Belgarath touches a lock and opens the door (prompting Silk to ask where that kind of assistance was when he needed it) so they can then ambush the eight guards coming to get them. Who, as guards, talk about what they are looking forward to.

“Y’diss says it doesn’t matter if some of them die under the questioning,” one of the men outside said. “The only ones we have to keep alive are the old man, the woman, and the boy.”
“Let’s kill the big one with the red whiskers then,” another suggested. “He looks like he might be troublesome, and he’s probably too stupid to know anything useful.”
“I want that one,” Barak whispered.

It’s a short fight and the guards don’t stand a chance. As the party passes by, they hear Y’diss helping to put the count to bed.

“I think I’d like some of the green, Y’diss,” Count Dravor’s voice came from behind a partially open door.
“Certainly, my Lord,” Y’diss said in his sibilant, rasping voice.
“The green tastes bad,” Count Dravor said drowsily, “but it gives me such lovely dreams. The red tastes better, but the dreams aren’t so nice.”
“Soon you’ll be ready for the blue, my Lord,” Y’diss promised. There was a faint clink and the sound of liquid being poired into a glass. “Then the yellow, and finally the black. The black’s best of all.”
[…nobody decides to stab Y’diss or otherwise make sure he ends up very dead, but they do get their horses and decide to leave…]
“I bought us a little time before I left,” Silk said with a short laugh.
“How’d you manage that?” Barak asked.
“When I went to get our weapons, I also set fire to the kitchen.” Silk snickered. “That’ll keep their attention for a bit.”
A tendril of smoke rose from the back of the house.
“Very clever,” Aunt Pol said with a certain grudging admiration.
“Why thank you, my Lady.” Silk made a mocking little bow.

I’m mostly hoping that the kitchen staff have all gone to bed at this point so that no innocents were harmed in the making of the distraction. I would wonder if it would have been a better plot decision for Silk to have found Y’diss’s storehouses and laboratories for creating those concoctions and set them aflame. Admittedly, it might not have had the burn that he wanted, but it would also have given Y’diss and other Nyissans a reason to specifically stay involved in this fight or to possibly start fighting some Grolims to get the shot at the party.

As it is, that closes out Chapter Fourteen. Chapter Fifteen opens up with Belgarath and Polgara discussing Salmissra’s motivations (“She’s an opportunist” says Belgarath) and explaining to Garion that Salmissra’s not eternal herself, but instead a succession of queens who have all been trained to look and act alike. That, and apparently she’s got a temper.

“Y’diss has taken some quiet, painless way out by now,” Wolf said. “Salmissra grows a bit excessive when she’s irritated.”
“Is she so cruel then?” Garion asked.
“Not cruel exactly,” Wolf explained. “Nyissans admire serpents. If you annoy a snake, he’ll bite you. He’s a simple creature, but very logical. Once he bites you, he doesn’t hold any further grudges.”
“Do we have to talk about snakes?” Silk asked in a pained voice.

Okay, so snakes are apparently something Silk doesn’t like. And Salmissra apparently doesn’t hold a grudge once she’s thoroughly explained herself and her vexation with whomever is on her bad side.

The plot continues along with the party reaching Tol Honeth and then trying to figure out how to get to see Ran Borune, the emperor, on the down low, to which Barak volunteers Grinneg, the Cherek ambassador for the task, who is one of his cousins, and everyone else agrees it’s a good idea. Garion, in the marketplace as they head on their way, notes a whole bunch of different cultures all together, but it feels like there’s too many Murgos than would be proportionate with the rest of the crowd to him. That might be paranoia on his part, and in some other story where it’s much more ambiguous about who he heroes are in this story, it would be paranoia on Garion’s part But here, of course, it’s going to be obvious that there are too many Murgos and they’re causing all sorts of trouble. Not in this chapter, though, as the only thing that gets in the way of seeing Grinneg is a sentry who doesn’t believe Barak is who he says he is, but who quickly realizes the error of his way when Barak reaches through the gate, grabs the guard, and pulls him right up against the gate while threatening his health. Which, if nothing else, proves Barak’s a Cherek and should get to see the ambassador anyway, if he should choose.

That takes care of Chapter Fifteen. Chapter Sixteen means we’ll finally get to see Ran Borune, and most likely, his daughter. At least these chapters were short, even though they were essentially pointless, other than to make sure that when The Plan says they have to go to Nyissa, we’ve already met a Nyissan and we know they’re involved in this as interested opportunists instead of partisans on either side. So we’ll stop here, since there’s probably going to be something actually related to the plot (and because I’ve peeked ahead and the next chapter is pretty long).

Queen of Sorcery: The Empire Awaits

Last time, Garion and company finally made it to the capital of Arendia and told Korodullin and Mayaserana about what was going on, which culminated in Garion making a public accusation against Nachak, Mandorallen championing Garion in a trial by combat to prove his truth, Nachak panicking and proving them right (and then getting killed by Hettar when he tried to flee), and everyone saying that Garion really should be smarter about all of this in the first place. A skeptical knight had a tree grown from a twig right before his eyes and given charge to tend the tree and distribute its fruits to anyone who asks. Oh, and also there’s going to be a royal heir, thanks to Polgara, so the Arenidsh civil war won’t explode into open warfare yet.

Queen of Sorcery: Part Two: Tolnedra: Chapters Twelve and Thirteen: Content Notes:

Before we get going, I want to stick in the back of my head, and yours, the running theme we bright up a couple posts ago about men falling in love with people above their station (Durnik with Polgara, Barak with Merel, Silk with Porenn, Mandorallen with Nerina) and that we should probably pay more attention to it when it starts popping up more.

Everyone gets a state send-off from Korodullin, with lots of escort and the king himself to the border that Arendia has with Tolnedra. And, finally, one of the kings says something intelligent about what they’re going to do.

“I will also examine the activities of the Murgos within my kingdom,” Korodullin said. “If what thou hast told me should prove true, as I doubt not that it shall, then I will expel them from Arendia. I will seek them out, one and all, and harry them out of the land. I will make their lives a burden and an affection to them for sowing discord and contention among my subjects.”
Wolf grinned at him. “That’s an idea that appeals to me. Murgos are an arrogant people, and a little affliction now and then teaches them humility.”

You don’t really have to change all that much of the dialog in this book if you want it to be a story about how the heroic party are really the villains looking to destabilize the world. Especially if the heroes are the Angaraks. Still, Korodullin saying “if I find them, I’m going to run them out of the country and make sure they don’t come back” is good, and probably should have been the standing policy of Arendia before this, like how Cherek forbids Angaraks from being in their kingdom at all.

More evidence that we’re actually following villains is yet another bribery scene that Silk treats as the cost of doing business as a merchant, after having described the customs station as “far enough from the border so that they don’t interfere with legitimate smuggling.”

“Is trouble likely?” Mandorallen asked. The knight had removed his armor and now wore the mail suit and surcoat in which he customarily traveled.
“No,” Silk said. “The customs agent will ask a few questions, and then we’ll bribe him and be on our way.”
“Bribe?” Durnik asked.
Silk shrugged. “Of course. That’s the way things are in Tolnedra. Better let me do the talking. I’ve been through all this before.”
The customs agent, a stout, balding man in a belted gown of a rusty brown color, came out of the stone building, brushing crumbs from the front of his clothes. “Good afternoon,” he said in a businesslike manner.
“Good day, your Excellency,” Silk replied with a brief bow.
“And what have we here?” the agent asked, looking appraisingly at the packs.
“I’m Radek of Boktor,” Silk replied, “a Drasnian merchant. I’m taking Sendarian wool to Tol Honeth.” He opened the top of one of the packs and pulled out a corner of woven gray cloth.
“Your prospects are good, worthy merchant,” the customs agent said, fingering the cloth. “It’s been a chilly winter this year, and wool’s bringing a good price.”
There was a brief clinking sound as several coins changed hands. The customs agent smiled then, and his manner grew more relaxed. “I don’t think we’ll need to open all the packs,” he said. “You’re obviously an honorable man, worthy Radek, and I wouldn’t want to delay you.”
Silk bowed again. “Is there anything I should know about the road ahead, your Excellency?” he asked, tying up the pack again. “I’ve learned to rely on the advice of the customs service.”

Common bribery and grift, just part of business in Tolnedra. The customs agent also mentions that there’s currently politics going on as several factions are doing their best to ensure their favored candidate ascends to be the next emperor of Tolnedra.

“Indeed,” the agent agreed bitterly. “You wouldn’t believe the size of the bribes some of those men are asking for their votes, worthy Radek.”
“It’s an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime, I suppose,” Silk said.
“I don’t begrudge an man the right to a decent, reasonable bribe,” the stout agent complained, “but some of the men on the council have gone mad with greed. No matter what position I get in the new government, it’s going to take me years to recoup what I’ve already been obliged to contribute. It’s the same all over Tolnedra. Decent men are being driven to the wall by taxes and all these emergency subscriptions. You don’t dare let a list go by that doesn’t have your name on it, and there’s a new list out every day. The expense is making everyone desperate. They’re killing each other in the streets of Tol Honeth.”
“That bad?” Silk asked.
“Worse than you can imagine,” the customs man said. “The Horbites don’t have the kind of money it takes to conduct a political campaign, so they’ve started to poison off council members. We spend millions to buy a vote, and the next day our man turns black in the face and falls over dead. Then we have to raise more millions to buy up his successor. They’re absolutely destroying me. I don’t have the right kind of nerves for politics.”
“Terrible,” Silk sympathized.
“If Ran Borune would only die,” the Tolnedran complained desperately. “We’re in control now, but the Honeths are richer than we are. If they unite behind one candidate, they’ll be able to buy the throne right out from under us. And all the while Ran Borune sits in the palace doting on that little monster he calls a daughter and with so many guards around that we can’t persuade even the bravest assassin to make an attempt on him. Sometimes I think he intends to live forever.”

Politics, in this case, means things like assassinations, poisonings, mob attacks, bribery to the count of millions of presumably gold crowns, and more. So Tolnedra is clearly supposed to be a “last days” decadent Rome, more interested in internal politics than maintaining their Empire. Silk, of course, completely approves of “the smell of deceit, corruption, and intrigue,” and when Barak objects to it as a “cesspool,” Silk agrees, but says Tolnedra’s never dull because of it.

Also, I have a feeling that the monstrous imperial daughter is going to turn out to be plot significant, because otherwise she wouldn’t be mentioned specifically as a monster. And that the narrative is going to prove this customs agent correct about the imperial daughter being an actual spoiled princess.

In the village they stopped at for the night, the party witnesses a short scene where someone who is declared to be a madman bears down on Garion, and Garion touches the hand that has his birthmark to the other man, just trying to push him away, but instead, there’s the sound of magic, and the “madman” drops unconscious. Polgara gives Garion specific instructions on what to do next (touch him again and apologize for knocking him down), and the man springs back up. Before anyone can fully get the idea that this is some sort of miracle (Polgara firmly shuts down that idea as much as she can), the party moves on, but Belgarath and Polgara exchange a worried look and deflect Durnik’s questions about what happened. Garion’s inner voice tells him that he did the thing, not anyone else, and Polgara tells Garion not to think about it and that she’ll explain it all later. And that gets rid of Chapter 12, which appears to be functioning as a way of setting the scene of Tolnedra as a place that should probably horrify Durnik thoroughly. And Chapter 13 delivers on that idea, where in a sizable town, a person called Lembor is grabbed by the soldiers of a rival faction and knifed in an alley. His ally, Rabbas, comes too late to save him, and there’s about to be a street brawl between Rabbas and Kragger, the man at the head of the faction that killed Lembor, but that the legionnaires interfere and drive both factions away from each other, no sympathy or intent to arrest or investigate the murder that just happened. (Garion calls it deliberate murder in response to Silk telling them not to get involved in local politics.) When Mandorallen later asks why the legions allow murder and such, Belgarath says “The legions stay neutral in these affairs[…]It’s part of their oath.” and, well, no. Neutrality in these affairs would be prosecuting everyone equally and equally vigorously for the crimes they are committing. I have yet to meet a police department or military force that truly was neutral and prosecuted equally and equally vigorously, especially in places where no single citizen could be expected to know the whole of the law and all of its details. The legions have a position on what and whom they will support, but they’re at least managing to maintain the illusion that they’re not favoring any one faction or person.

Durnik also spots Brill, which has Wolf complain about how Brill manages to stay one step ahead of them like this. I think he should be asking why they don’t warrant a better brand of tough to spy on them, but in any case, Silk disappears into the crowd to spy on Brill and the rest of them retire to an inn, trying to make sure they don’t get spotted. In the tavern where they land at, the party has food.

They had nearly finished eating when a shabby-looking little man in a linen shirt, leather apron and a ragged hat came in and plunked himself unceremoniously a the end of their table. His face looked vaguely familiar somehow. “Wine!” he bawled at the serving-man, “and food.” He squinted around in the golden light streaming through the yellow glass windows of the common room.
“There are other tables, friend,” Mandorallen said coldly.
“I like this one,” the stranger said. He peered at each of them in turn, and then he suddenly laughed. Garion stared in amazement as the man’s face relaxed, the muscles seeming to shift under his skin back into their normal position. It was Silk.
“How did you do that?” Barak asked, startled.
Silk grinned at him and then reached up to massage his cheeks with his fingertips. “Concetration, Barak. Concentration and lots of practice. It makes my jaws ache a bit, though.”
“Useful skill, I’d imagine—under the right circumstances,” Hettar said blandly.
“Particularly for a spy,” Barak said.
[…It turns out that Brill is yet again in the employ of Asharak, and Polgara suggests that they’re going to have to deal with him, since Asharak is starting to piss Polgara off…]
“There’s another thing.” Silk started on one of the cutlets. “Brill’s telling everyone that Garion is Asharak’s son—that we’ve stolen him and that Asharak’s offering a huge reward for his return.”
“Garion?” Aunt Pol asked sharply.
Silk nodded. “The kind of money he’s talking about is bound to make everyone in Tolnedra keep his eyes open.” He reached for a piece of bread.
[…Garion’s targeted because being kidnapped would delay everyone else while they looked for him. Because of the competence of this plan, Belgarath suspects Asharak is a Grolim—hang on, didn’t we already establish that in the last book?…]
“How can one tell the difference?” Durnik asked.
“You can’t,” Wolf answered. “They look very much the same. They’re two separate tribes, but they’re much more closely related to each other than they are to other Angaraks. Anyone can tell the difference between a Nadrak and a Thull or a Thull and a Mallorean, but Murgos and Grolims are so much alike that you can’t tell them apart.”
“I’ve never had any problems,” Aunt Pol said. “Their minds are quite different.”
“That will make it much easier,” Barak commented dryly. “We’ll just chop open the head of the next Murgo we meet, and you can point out the differences to us.”
“You’ve been spending too much time with Silk lately,” Aunt Pol said acidly. “You’re starting to talk like him.”

So, y’know, the plot that this story could be is the story that a Murgo is spreading around. What do Tolnedrans think about Murgos and Angaraks generally? We don’t know, so we have no idea whether this story is going to be taken seriously or laughed out of the room. Or whether nobody believes it, but the reward being offered would certainly be helpful when it comes to trying to influence the succession. Because unless adoption is a widespread concept in this world, I doubt somehow that people are going to believe that a member of the Always Cartoonishly Evil Scary Foreigner Dark-Skinned People has a son with much lighter skin than he and who looks like he Belongs Here With Us. At least, according to the way that the author has built this world, and the assumptions that have been built into it from the author’s biases. It would require a lot more and different worldbuilding before we could believe that the story would be plausible. Or, if we had done something where the story was ambiguous about who is heroic and who isn’t, then this ploy might be seen as the hero Asharak trying to separate the prophetic child from the band of villains that have been keeping him captive.

I also have to wonder whether Asharak is offering red, soul-corrupting gold as the reward for delivering Garion to him, such that someone accepting a down payment can have their minds controlled to attack and try to kidnap Garion, despite any and all sense to the contrary or correctly considering the situation and realizing that trying to take Garion without a proper complement of heavy fighters is a recipe for everybody dying swiftly.

Also, it looks like here’s that evidence we were looking for that there’s a certain amount of facial contortions and physical poses that Silk uses to disguise himself in his various personas. Something more subtle might be easily maintainable as to change between Ambar of Kotu and Radek of Boktor. I still think it’s much more likely to be a polite, possibly official, fiction, rather than anyone actually believing they’re two separate people.

Additionally, while the way that Belgarath describes the similarity between Murgos and Grolims works well for “they’ve infiltrated your spaces with mind whammy-powered Grolims when you think they’re just Murgos” paranoia, if it’s only Murgos and Grolims that look alike, if your policy is to kill anyone who looks like a Murgo on sight because they might have been a Grolim instead, you don’t end up with potential mind-whammiers in your kingdom. There’s still a really large lot of all of this that could have been avoided or prevented, based on longstanding prejudice from history, if certain groups of Angaraks were not allowed to live outside of the Angarak kingdoms. You’ll still have the problem of someone stealing the Orb with Zedar, but all of this faffing about and being delayed by Grolims and Murgos creating problems would be gone, or would have to be replaced with a better thought-out plan of how the Angaraks manage to create delays and chaos in the countries they’re stationed in. You know, espionage and sabotage, like what Drasnia is supposed to be extememly good at.

Plot-wise, the party sneaks out of the inn and puts some distance between themselves and Asharak, only to be ambushed in the middle of the night and bundled off to see Count Dravor, which is where Chapter Thirteen ends. Not a whole lot of action here, but also, I have a feeling we’re about to take a detour from the plot yet again, that’s probably going to take us somewhere that doesn’t make any sense at all.

More players introduced, for reasons that are as obscure to the characters as they are to the reader, next week.

Queen of Sorcery: Another Plot Foiled

Last time, our nominal heroes took a tour through a permanent fair of nonpermanent structures, as which point they noticed, yet again, the dumb muscle from Faldor’s farm, who still hasn’t gotten the hint to go away or been shanked for failure to keep an eye on the party. The party pulls a trick on him again, keeping his attention with their comings and goings until they sneak away in the middle of the night. And then they made it all the way to Vo Mimbre, after a bastardized (no pun intended) courtly love tale involving Mandorallen and a Baroness that his mentor married that probably would have done better if they had just banged each other until they were tired of it and went on with their lives.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapters Ten and Eleven: Content Notes: Racism, Abuse, Murder,

So now they’ve made it to Vo Mimbre, and Polgara has dressed them all in their finest so they make an appropriate impression on Korodullin and Mayaserana, the same-named (and likely very closely related to each other) king and queen of Arendia.

“Behold Vo Mimbre,” Mandorallen proclaimed with pride, “queen of cities. Upon that rock the tide of Angarak crashed and recoiled and crashed again. Upon this field met they their ruin. The soul and pride of Arendia doth reside within that fortress, and the power of the Dark One may not prevail against it.”
“We’ve been here before, Mandorallen,” Mister Wolf said sourly.
“Don’t be impolite, father,” Aunt Pol told the old man.

And then, to Garion’s surprise, although it shouldn’t be, since they’ve mentioned at least twice now that Polgara spent a lot of time with the Wacite Arends, Polgara asks Mandorallen to escort them to the king in flawless Arendish dialect. Mandorallen accepts the charge gratefully, and it turns out they kind of need it. After a somewhat sober remark from Durnik that the commoners and the nobles of the city seem to be doing a good job of politely ignoring each other, the party is challenged at the palace gates and it seems that everybody wants to pick a fight with everybody else, just like Mandorallen said.

“Abate thy pace, Sir Knight,” a tall man with dark hair and beard, wearing a black velvet surcoat over his polished mail, called down from the parapet to Mandorallen as they clattered into the broad plaza before the palace. “Lift thy visor so I may know thee.”
Mandorallen stopped in amazement before the closed gate and raised his visor. “What discourtesy is this?” he demanded. “I am, as all the world knows, Mandorallen, Baron of Vo Mandor. Surely thou canst see my crest upon the face of my shield.”
“Any man may wear another’s crest,” the man above declared disdainfully.
Mandorallen’s face darkened. “Art thou not mindful that no man on life would dare to counterfeit my semblance?”
“Sir Andorig,” another knight on the parapet told the dark-haired man, “this is indeed Sir Mandorallen. I met him on the field of the great tourney last year, and our meeting cost me a broken shoulder and put a ringing in my ears which hath not yet subsided.”
“Ah,” Sir Andorig replied, “since thou wilt vouch for him, Sir Helbergin, I will admit that this is indeed the bastard of Vo Mandor.”
“You’re doing to have to do something about that one of these days,” Barak said quietly to Mandorallen.
“It would seem so,” Mandorallen replied.

So, he knew it was him all along, but decided to fuck with him anyway. That’s the kind of thing that someone remembers, and if they meet you at the next tournament, they’re going to make very sure that you leave with at least all your bones broken, if they don’t decide to kill you in some plausibly deniable manner.

As for “doing something about it,” that seems to be the sort of thing where Mandorallen finds a nice public square, makes a declaration that anybody who wants the right to talk about his parentage has to beat him in combat, otherwise everybody should shut the fuck up or die. Knowing Mandorallen, he’ll probably make good on besting all the people who come by to say so. But Andorig isn’t done delivering insults.

“Who, however, are these others with thee who seek admittance, Sir Knight?” Andorig demanded. “I will not cause the gates to open for foreign strangers.”
Madnorallen straightened in his saddle. “Behold!” he announced in a voice that could probably be heard all over the city. “I bring you honor beyond measure. Fling wide the palace gates and prepare one and all to make obeisance. You look upon the holy face of Belgarath the Sorceror, the Eternal Man, and upon the divine countenance of his daughter, the Lady Polgara, who have come to Vo Mimbre to consult with the King of Arendia on diverse matters.”
“Isn’t that a little overdone?” Garion whispered to Aunt Pol.
“It’s customary, dear,” she replied placidly. “When you’re dealing with Arends, you have to be a little extravagant to get their attention.”
“And who hath told thee that this is the Lord Belgarath?” Andorig asked with the faintest hint of a sneer. “I will bend no knee before an unproved vagabond.”
“Dost thou question my word, Sir Knight?” Mandorallen returned in an ominously quiet voice. “And wilt thou then come down and put thy doubt to the test? Or is it perhaps that thou would prefer to cringe doglike behind thy parapet and yap at thy betters?”
“Oh, that was very good,” Barak said admiringly.
Mandorallen grinned tightly at the big man.
“I don’t think we’re getting anywhere with this,” Mister Wolf muttered. “It look like I’ll have to prove something to this skeptic if we’re ever going to get in to see Korodullin.” He slid down from his saddle and thoughtfully removed a twig from his horse’s tail, picked up somewhere during their journey. Then he strode to the center of the plaza and stood there in his gleaming white robe. “Sir Knight,” he called up mildly to Andorig, “you’re a cautious man, I see. That’s a good quality, but it can be carried too far.”
“I am hardly a child, old man,” the dark-haired knight replied in a tone hovering on the verge of insult, “and I believe only what mine own eye hath confirmed.”
“It must be a sad thing to believe so little,” Wolf observed. He bent then and inserted the twig he’d been holding between two of the broad granite flagstones at his feet. He stepped back a pace and stretched his hand out above the twig, his face curiously gentle. “I’m going to do you a favor, Sir Andorig,” he announced. “I’m going to restore your faith. Watch closely.” And then he spoke a single soft word that Garion couldn’t quite hear, but which set off the now-familiar surge and a faint roaring sound.

And about here is where I twigged to the realization that this roaring sound and surge is the “noise” that’s supposed to come along with magic that everyone who’s an adept can hear. So good job to Eddings for not making it so obvious that I figured it out in the first book. I wonder how many more books it will be before someone explains it to Garion or he deduces that’s what it is.

So the word that Belgarath spoke was almost certainly “grow,” because the twig eventually sprouts a full-fledged tree in the court, which eventually blossoms “a delicate pink and white” set of flowers, which, as Belgarath will note in the next line after the description of he flowers appears, are apple blossoms.

He patted the tree fondly and then turned back to the dark-haired knight who had sunk, white-faced and trembling to his knees. “Well, Sir Andorig,” he inquired, “what do you believe now?”
“Please forgive me, Holy Belgarath,” Andorig begged in a strangled voice.
Mister Wolf drew himself up and spoke sternly, his words slipping into the measured cadences of the Mimbrate idiom as easily as Aunt Pol’s had earlier. “I charge thee, Sir Knight, to care for this tree. It hath grown here to renew thy faith and trust. Thy debt to it must be paid with tender and loving attention to its needs. It time it will bear fruit, and thou wilt gather the fruit and give it freely to any who ask it of thee. For thy soul’s sake, thou wilt refuse none, no matter how humble. As the tree gives freely, so shalt thou.”
“That’s a nice touch,” Aunt Pol approved.
Wolf winked at her.
“I will do even as thou hast commanded me, Holy Belgarath,” Sir Andorig choked. “I pledge my heart to it.”
Mister Wolf returned to his horse. “At least he’ll do one useful thing in his life,” he muttered.
After that there was no further discussion. The palace gate creaked open, and they all rode into the inner courtyard and dismounted. Mandorallen led them past kneeling and even sobbing nobles who reached out to touch Mister Wolf’s robe as he passed.

Blest are they that have seen and believe. At the same time, even if Torak’s the only one who’s still corporeally present in the world, it seemed like all the other gods would presumably appear in spirit to their people on the regular, just so that nobody ends up having such skepticism that it takes someone growing a tree in the courtyard to be seen and understood as a person who has that kind of power. Then again, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some sort of Grolim magic about making the normally very credulous Arends skeptical. It seems like there’s always a Grolim plot somewhere any time the hero party gets into trouble.

Although, if we’re looking for biblical analogues, I’ll say that having to take care of a tree for the rest of your life and give the fruit to anyone who asks is a much better sentence than having a bear set upon you to kill you because you made fun of a prophet.

Once in the throne room, there are introductions, and then Polgara and Mayaserana go off in private to have a talk between women that apparently can’t wait, while Korodullin goes off in conference with Belgarath in private. Garion, for his part, pulls off to the side to try and figure out how he’s going to tell Korodullin that there’s a plot afoot to try and kill him, and even more importantly, the ambassador to the Angaraks is the one who conceived of it and is funding it (and probably plenty of others like it). Blurting it out like he did in Cherek seems like even less of a good idea than it was there. At no point has “tell Belgarath and/or Polgara about it” crossed his mind, except when he was giving advice to Lelldorin to do it, much less been considered seriously, even though Lelldorin said Garion could tell anybody about the thing.

The situation then was so similar to this one that it seemed all at once like some elaborate game. The moves on the board were almost identical, and in each case he had been placed in the uncomfortable position of being required to block that last crucial move where a king would die and a kingdom would collapse. He felt oddly powerless, as if his entire life were in the fingers of two faceless players maneuvering pieces in the same patterns on some vast board in a game that, for all he knew, had lasted for eternity. There was no question about what had to be done. The players, however, seemed content to leave it up to him to come up with a way to do it.

I would love for this to be some cheeky meta on Eddings’ part, but it’s probably going to turn out disturbingly accurate, with Aldur and Torak as the players on the opposite ends of the game. To add tension to the situation, Nachak himself appears in the throne room not that soon afterward, and he’s none too happy that he wasn’t invited to say hello to the guests and also to do the necessary diplomatic counterparts to whatever Belgarath and Polgara are saying.

Korodullin’s face grew cold. “I do not recall summoning thee, Nachak,” he said.
“It is, then, as I had feared,” the Murgo replied. “These messengers have spoken ill of my race, seeking to dissever the friendship which doth exist between the thrones of Arendia and of Cthol Murgos. I am chagrined to find that thou hast given ear to slanders without offering me opportunity to reply. Is this just, august Majesty?”
[…there is absolutely bad blood between Belgarath and Nachak, and for the first time, we start to see people showcase their racism, rather than just talk about it…]
“I protest, your Majesty,” Nachak appealed to the king. “I protest in the strongest manner possible. All the world knows of his hatred for my people. How can you allow him to poison your mind against me?”
“He forgot the thees and thous that time,” Silk commented slyly.
“He’s excited,” Barak replied. “Murgos get clumsy when they’re excited. It’s one of their shortcomings.”
“Alorns!” Nachak spat.
“That’s right, Murgo,” Barak said coldly. He was still holding Hettar’s arm.
Nachak looked at them, and then his eyes widened as he seemed to see Hettar for the first time. He recoiled from the Algar’s hate-filled stare, and his half-dozen knights closed protectively around him. “Your Majesty,” he rasped, “I know that man to be Hettar of Algaria, a known murderer. I demand that you arrest him.”
Demand, Nachak?” the king asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Thou wilt present demands to me in my own court?”
“Forgive me, your Majesty,” Nachak apologized quickly. “The sight of that animal so disturbed me that I forgot myself.”
“You’d be wise to leave now, Nachak,” Mister Wolf recommended. “It’s not really a good idea for a Murgo to be alone in the presence of so many Alorns. Accidents have a way of happening under such conditions.”

That, however, is a threat, and a barely-disguised one. Even if he is Holy Belgarath, Korodullin should be telling Belgarath’s party to keep their hands and their swords to themselves at this point.

Instead, we get Garion realizing that he’s got to do something, right now, that the “faceless players had made their final moves, an the game must end here.” So he tugs on Belgarath’s sleeve and tells him that he has to say something important. Belgarath is ready to dismiss him, but he sees something that makes him change his mind, and then…

“Some men are planning to kill the king of Arendia. Nachak’s one of them.” Garion had said it louder than he’d intended, and a sudden silence fell over the throne room at his words.
Nachak’s face went pale, and his hand moved involuntarily toward his sword hilt, then froze. Garion was suddenly keenly aware of Barak hulking just behind him and Hettar, grim as death in black leather, towering beside him. Nachak stepped back and made a quick gesture to his steel-clad knights. Quickly they formed a protective ring around him, their hands on their weapons. “I won’t stay and listen to such slander,” the Murgo declared.
“I have not yet given thee my permission to withdraw, Nachak,” Korodullin informed him coolly. “I require thy presence yet a while.” The young king’s face was stern, and his eyes bored into the Murgo’s. Then he turned to Garion. “I would hear more of this. Speak truthfully, lad, and fear not reprisal from any man for thy words.”

So Garion explains, but he hits a snag because he won’t identify Lelldorin as the source of his information, claiming that his loyalty to the person requires him not to betray him. Nachak suggests putting Garion on the rack for an hour to get the truth (that should say something right there), but Korodullin says he puts little faith in confessions obtained by torture, which makes him a much smarter leader than many Presidents of the United States of the last few decades.

To break the impasse, Mandorallen steps in to solve the problem in a properly Arendish way.

“By our law, however, a cause incapable of proof may be decided by trial at arms. I will champion this boy. I declare before this company that this Nachak is a foul villain who hath joined with diverse others to slay my king.” He pulled off his steel gauntlet and tossed it to the floor. The crash as it struck the polished stone seemed thunderous. “Take up my gage, Murgo,” Mandorallen said coldly, “or let one of thy sycophant knights take it up for thee. I will prove thy villainy upon thy body or upon the body of thy champion.”
Nachak stared first at the mailed gauntlet and then at the great knight standing accusingly before him. He licked his lips nervously and looked around the throne room. Except for Mandorallen, none of the Mimbrate nobles present were under arms. The Murgo’s eyes narrowed with a sudden desperation. “Kill him!” he snarled at the six men in armor surrounding him.
The knights looked shocked, doubtful.
“Kill him!” Nachak commanded them. “A thousand gold pieces to the man who spills out his life!”
The faces of the six knights went flat at his words. As one man they drew their swords and spread out, moving with raised shields toward Mandorallen. There were gasps and cries of alarm as the nobles and their ladies scrambled out of the way.
“What treason is this?” Mandorallen demanded of them. “Are ye so enamored of this Murgo and his gold that ye will draw weapons in the king’s presence in open defiance of the law’s prohibitions? Put up your swords.”
But they ignored his words and continued their grim advance.
“Defend thyself, Sir Mandorallen,” Korodullin urged, half-rising from his throne. “I free thee of the law’s constraints.”

And here we get to see more clearly the effect that accepting red gold apparently has on a person – they can be mind controlled into whatever the person promising them gold wants them to do, regardless of whether that’s something they actually want to do. This happened with the Chereks in the last book, but Garion wasn’t really in a position to notice it fully. Here, now, he can fix it in his head as to what happens to people who accept red gold. This continues to reinforce my complaint that there should be no alive Murgos outside of their own kingdoms if this is a known effect, but perhaps the skepticism about Belgarath is a common one, and the idea that red gold is soul-corrupting is similarly believed to be a mythological thing, since they’ve never seen anyone get their soul bought out with red gold before.

Barak, ever resourceful, rips down a sword from a display near the throne and slides it to Mandorallen, before he and Hettar also join the fray with their own weapons. Garion’s hand goes to his sword, thinking he’ll join in, but for once, somebody finally remembers that Garion gets berserker rage, and Belgarath pulls him away from the developing conflict so he can’t get himself injured or killed. The mind-controlled knights are too slow and clumsy for their free-thinking opponents, and several of them are cut down mercilessly before Nachak makes to flee. Garion yells to warn the others, but Hettar is already there and Nachak dies quickly to his sabre. Thus ends chapter ten.

Chapter Eleven starts with Mandorallen claiming victory. Korodullin acknowledges this, but says that the eagerness of the party to do a thorough job has deprived him of the opportunity to mine Nachak for intelligence about other plots. Belgarath says they’re likely to dry up as word of Nachak’s death gets around, which seems like a stretch, honestly. The plots drying up because Nachak’s not financing them any more, I will believe, but I can’t see someone like, say, Lelldorin deciding to quit on the good plot that was given to him because the person who was providing the gold got killed. The nobles of Asturia certainly still have enough wealth to maintain their own lifestyle and keep the serfs oppressed, so they could probably pool their own gold and find a convenient patsy to acquire things for them.

The floors are ordered cleaned and the bodies removed, and Barak, Mandorallen, and Hettar thank each other for the help. It turns out that the ease in which Hettar dispatched Nachak seems to be a weakness in the swordfighting training of every Murgo, which would explain Hettar’s high body count. Garion, for his part, is hoping for some time alone, since he can’t talk to Polgara yet about the guilt he is feeling about all the death that happened because he spoke up about what he’d been told. Instead, he gets cornered by a young woman who has quite a bit of flattery for him and wants to know if he’s single. Before things can get too awkward, however, Mandorallen arrives and gives Garion a perfect excuse to get away. Garion finally unburdens some of his mind to Mandorallen.

“I wanted to thank you, Mandorallen,” Garion said finally, struggling with it a little.
“For what, lad?”
“You knew whom I was protecting when I told the king about Nachak, didn’t you?”
“Naturally,” the knight replied in a rather offhand way.
“You could have told the king—actually it was your duty to tell him, wasn’t it?”
“But thou hadst given thy pledge.”
“You hadn’t, though.”
“Thou art my companion, lad. Thy pledge is as binding upon me as it is upon thee. Didst thou not know that?”
Garion was startled by Mandorallen’s words. The exquisite involvement of Arendish ethics were beyond his grasp. “So you fought for me instead.”
Mandorallen laughed easily. “Of course,” he answered, “though I must confess to thee in all honesty, Garion, that my eagerness to stand as thy champion grew not entirely out of friendship. In truth I found the Murgo Nachak offensive and liked not the the cold arrogance of his hirelings. I was inclined toward battle before thy need of championing presented itself. Perhaps it is I who should thank thee for providing the opportunity.”
“I don’t understand you at all, Mandorallen,” Garion admitted. “Sometimes I think you’re the most complicated man I’ve ever met.”
“I?” Mandorallen seemed amazed. “I am the simplest of men.”

And then undercuts that idea somewhat by giving Garion advice to guard his speech and conduct against the young lady he rescued Garion from, because she’s looking for a husband and he’s of marriageable age and good pedigree.

Also, I feel like Mandorallen thinks of Garion as his page, or maybe his squire, and he hasn’t actually told Garion this, but just acts as if it were true. That would at least explain the “your promises are my promises” bit. I think Mandorallen is being the most honest when he says he was itching for a fight in the first place and Garion gave him a convenient excuse, which then became a very convenient excuse when Nachak failed at being a diplomat when presented with a situation that he should have been able to handle. It seems to be a regular thing that many of the kingdoms are secretly looking for excuses to kill the Scary Foreigners. Despite, you know, living in absolute monarchies where someone could just petition the rulers for a pogrom. Or a privateering license. Or an indulgence, or any other official permission to commit murder on a wide scale.

Anyway, once Mandorallen leaves Garion’s side, the predatory countess manages to corner Garion again, but this time it’s Polgara who rescues him in a way that is entirely her, reminding Garion that it’s time for his medicine, and telling the countess that he needs a potion every the hours or the madness returns.

“The curse of his family,” Aunt Pol sighed. “They all have it—all the male children. The potion works for a while, but of course it’s only temporary. We’ll have to find some patient and self-sacrificing lady soon, so that he can marry and father children before his brains begin to soften. After that his poor wife will be doomed to spend the rest of her days caring for him.” She looked critically at the young countess. “I wonder,” she said. *Could it be possible that you are as yet unbetrothed? You appear to be off a suitable age.” She reached out and briefly took hold of Vasrana’s rounded arm. “Nice and strong,” she said approvingly. “I’ll speak to my father, Lord Belgarath, about this immediately.”
The countess began to back away, her eyes wide.
“Come back,” Aunt Pol told her. “His fits won’t start for several minutes yet.”
The girl fled.
“Can’t you ever stay out of trouble?” Aunt Pol demanded of Garion, leading him firmly away.
“But I didn’t say anything,” he objected.

Yes, blame Garion for the fact that nobody has taught him a gods-damned thing about how to behave around royalty, how to have courtly manners, how to properly and politely turn down someone who has interest in you, or any of these other skills that would serve him well, given how often he is in contact or the presence of nobles and royalty. And also, Polgara decided to go straight to an overkill option by making up a complete mental health issue that Garion does not have. What happens when that piece of information gets around and the selfless young girls of Arendia think that it’s an act of mercy and compassion to fuck Garion as many times as they can before his brains rot, and to get those children going for the same reason? And that whichever one he can manage to get pregnant first will be the one he marries, but all of them will gladly bear bastards for him for as long as he has sense. I assume we’re supposed to believe the rules of propriety and chivalry would prevent this from happening, but I can believe there are some families with second daughters or third daughters who would think that even being one of Garion’s official mistresses would be a better position than they could otherwise achieve. As Silk says, keep the lies simple. Unless anything short of this kind of grandiose story wouldn’t work on Countess Vasrana or any other determined suitor, and even then, Polgara should be blaming the system that rewards predatory girls rather than Garion’s lack of knowledge about a subject he’s gotten no instruction on, because Polgara has always swooped in to drive off any women that have taken an interest in Garion and expected his traveling companions to do the same.

Having already gotten aggravated at Garion for something he didn’t do, Polgara also snaps at Mandorallen when he inquires about something that’s vital to the continued existence of the Arendish kingdom.

“What matter did you discuss with our queen?” he asked. “I have not seen her smile so in years.”
“Mayaserana had a problem of a female nature. I don’t think you’d understand.”
“Her inability to carry a child to term?”
“Don’t Arends have anything better to do than gossip about things that don’t concern them? Why don’t you go find another fight instead of asking intimate questions?”
“The matter is of great concern to us all, my Lady,” Mandorallen apologized. “If our queen does not produce an heir to the throne, we stand in danger of dynastic war. All Arendia could go up in flames.”
“There aren’t going to be any flames, Mandorallen. Fortunately I arrived in time—though it was very close. You’ll have a crown prince before winter.”
“Is it possible?”
“Would you like all the details?” she asked pointedly. “I’ve noticed that men usually prefer not to know about the exact mechanics involved in childbearing.”
Mandorallen’s face slowly flushed. “I will accept thine assurances, Lady Polgara,” he replied quickly.
“I’m so glad.”
“I must inform the king,” he declared.
“You must mind your own business, Sir Mandorallen. The queen will tell Korodullin what he needs to know. Why don’t you clean off your armor? You look as if you just walked through a slaughterhouse.”
He bowed, still blushing, and moved away.
Men!” she said to his retreating back.

As Mandorallen said, if they can’t get an heir, the fiction is exposed and the country goes up in flames. So yeah, I’d say the potential infertility of the queen is the business of the kingdom, even if Polgara (and probably Mayaserana) wishes it wasn’t. Also, of course, the details of what it is are left out because Polgara makes an entirely credible threat to say what they are in great detail, which of course squicks out Mandorallen, because that’s Girl Stuff, eww. Good work on giving a convincing reason why you didn’t want to write that part.

Then she turned toward Garion. “I hear you’ve been busy.”
“I had to warn the king,” he replied.
“You seem to have an absolute genius for getting mixed up in this sort of thing. Why didn’t you tell me—or your grandfather?”
“I promised that I wouldn’t say anything.”
“Garion,” she said firmly, “under our present circumstances, secrets are very dangerous. You knew that what Lelldorin told you was important, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t say it was Lelldorin.”
She gave him a withering look. “Garion, dear,” she told him bluntly, “don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that I’m stupid.”
“I didn’t,” he floundered. “I wasn’t. I—Aunt Pol, I gave them my word that I wouldn’t tell anybody.”
She sighed. “We’ve got to get you out of Arendia,” she declared. “The place seems to be affecting your good sense. The next time you feel the urge to make one of these startling public announcements, talk it over with me first, all right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
“Oh, Garion, what am I ever going to do with you?” Then she laughed fondly and put her arm about his shoulder and everything was all right again.

We can hope Garion takes this lesson to heart, but given how poorly Polgara has and continues to treat Garion, (this is making my “how you appease the abuser” hairs stand on end) I assume that if he tells anyone, it’ll be Belgarath. Or, more likely, he’ll tell someone else entirely, and they’ll tell Belgarath. Also, the way it’s come across, at least to this point, is that it’s very obvious that it’s Lelldorin who’s involved in the plot. As such, someone can save Garion the embarrassment and let him say honestly that he didn’t break his oath by just discreetly mentioning Lelldorin’s name when Garion isn’t there. Now, the real ethical dilemma that should be foregrounded here is what happens to someone who is credibly accused of being a conspirator. If everyone knows that named insurrectionists get their heads separated from their shoulders, and Lelldorin is supposed to be important to the prophecy, then there’s a real incentive for everyone else not to mention the name either. And then it can be *Garion, there is a time and a place for those kinds of announcements. Because you said it publicly, it had to be dealt with publicly, rather than allowing us to use Nachak to find all his terror cells and catch all of them instead. If you come across good intelligence like that in the future, mention it to Silk and he’ll get it to us.” It still seems like Polgara is treating Garion like he’s a burden and an aggravation, rather than presumably an important part of making everything work correctly.

The plot continues with Garion having a nightmare about being chased by the countess, and because of that, he tries to stick close to Mandorallen the next day. Which lets him be present for Andorig’s apology to Mandorallen.

About midmorning Sir Andorig, the dark-haired knight Mister Wolf had ordered to spend his days caring for the tree in the plaza, came looking for Mandorallen. “Sir Knight,” he said respectfully, “the Baron of Vo Ebor hath arrived from the north accompanied by his lady. They have asked after thee and besought me that I should seek thee out for them.”
“Thou art most kind, Sir Andorig,” Mandorallen replied, rising quickly from the bench where he had been sitting. “Thy courtesy becomes thee greatly.”
Andorig sighed. “Alas that it was not always so. I have this past night stood vigil before the miraculous tree which Holy Belgarath commended to my care. I thus had leisure to consider my life in retrospect. I have not been an admirable man. Bitterly I repent my faults and will strive earnestly for amendment.”
Wordlessly, Mandorallen clasped the knight’s hand and then followed him down a long hallway to a room where the visitors waited.

And the rest of the chapter is Garion watching the cringe-inducing interaction between Mandorallen and Nerina, because he has to be there so that there’s no rumors of impropriety between them while the Baron consults with the king. Garion both wants and doesn’t want one of the two to say something that can’t be taken back about their feelings for each other, and the narrative tells us that Garion loses the last of his prejudice against Mandorallen and begins to feel compassion and “the faint beginning of an understanding of the honor and towering pride which, though utterly selfless, was the foundation of that tragedy which had existed in Arendia for uncounted centuries.” I don’t fully follow the logic of how witnessing this conversation gives Garion any insight at all into the Arendish condition, but all the same, Arendia is a silly and violent place.

Also, that’s fairly fast forgiveness for someone on Mandorallen’s part, since not a chapter ago it seemed like he was going to have to have a widespread campaign to crack the heads of people who questioned his parentage. Then again, Mandorallen might recognize that what Belgarath did is a far wiser punishment than he would have inflicted, and he’d rather buy the hatchet than risk the old man turning his eye on him.

Chapter Eleven finishes with Durnik telling Garion that they’re getting ready to leave. Which ends Part One of this book. Part Two is Tolnedra, so maybe, hopefully, we’ll get to understand a little more about this cosplay Rome. Even if that understanding is “the author consulted less than zero sources on building this empire.”

Queen of Sorcery: The Fair Break

Last time, Lelldorin left the party, with Mandorallen and others telling him point-blank that he had to rest and recover or he’ll die. And they also went through a war that had been apparently engineered through Grolim mind control and succeeded at breaking the war by Mandorallen thumping others at jousting, and then Durnik thumping the Grolim while he was casting, earning him a scold from Polgara.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapters Eight and Nine: Content Notes: sex-negativity

Chapter Eight starts with learning why Hettar will kill any Murgo he comes across if he can get away with it – it’s revenge for the death pf his parents, who died from torture, and the torture of the seven year-old Hettar by those Murgos. Hettar got his first revenge kill at ten, and Cho-Hag made him watch the Murgo die, thinking he’d have the same reaction that Durnik did and swear off revenge, but it didn’t take with Hettar. Garion hears this story and thinks that if revenge for the death of his parents an sustain Hettar, it can sustain him, too. And then we have an interesting destiny versus free will debate, one that would be a lot more complicated if there weren’t gods in the world.

“It is our nature,” the knight in his gleaming armor was saying in a melancholy voice. “We are over-proud, and it is our pride that dooms our poor Arendia to internecine war.”
“That can be cured,” Mister Wolf said.
“How?” Mandorallen asked. “It is in our blood. I myself am the most peaceful of men, but even I am subject to our national disease. Moreover, our divisions are too great, too buried in our history and our souls to be purged away. The peace will not last, my friend. Even now Asturian arrows sing in the forests, seeking Mimbrate targets, and Mimbre in reprisal burns Asturian houses and butchers hostages. War is inevitable, I fear.”
“No,” Wolf disagreed. “it’s not.”
“How may it be prevented?” Mandorallen demanded. “Who can cure our insanity?”
“I will, if I have to,” Wolf told him quietly, pushing back his grey hood.
Mandorallen smiled warmly. “I appreciate thy good intentions, Belgarath, but that is impossible, even for thee.”
“Nothing is actually impossible, Mandorallen,” Wolf answered in a matter-of-fact voice. “Most of the time I prefer not to interfere with other people’s amusements, but I can’t afford to have Arendia going up in flames just now. If I have to, I’ll step in and put a stop to any more foolishness.”
“Hast thou in truth such power?” Mandorallen asked somewhat wistfully as if he could not quite bring himself to believe it.
“Yes,” Wolf replied prosaically, scratching at his short white beard, “as a matter of fact, I do.”
Mandorallen’s face grew troubled, even a bit awed at the old man’s quiet statement, and Garion found his grandfather’s declaration profoundly disturbing. If Wolf could actually stop a war single-handedly, he’d have no difficulty at all thwarting Garion’s own plans for revenge. It was something else to worry about.

I think Mandorallen’s boast would have to have context to be believable, but it’s almost as bad to believe that he’s telling the complete truth and that he and his cheerful willingness to “only” severely injure his opponents is being the most peaceful of Arends. That’s more “we probably should have skipped Arendia, it is a violent place” evidence, but the Mrin demands, and so here we are.

That said, I feel like the narrator is understating that we have finally found something that makes Mandorallen have a second thought about just how powerful the old man in front of him is. People usually change for one of two reasons: because they genuinely want to, which is usually the most difficult but also the longest-lasting change, and because there’s something more powerful than they are that will deliver consequences if the change does not happen. Depending on which philosopher you follow at your core, you may believe that one or the other of these reasons is more likely or more necessary, but those are generally the two major reasons that change happens. Belgarath just threatened to forcibly change the nature of an entire country if they couldn’t get it together. (Which sounds like one of those Grolim tricks they keep discounting.) I wonder what the god of the Arends has to say about that kind of threat.

In any case, the party decides they may as well just stop at the Great Fair and get some additional supplies. The horses are apparently complaining, according to Hettar, which is exaggeration and lies, which horses do all the time, according to him. The knowledge that horses lie and are good at it apparently restores Silk’s faith in the universe and earns a quip from Wolf that Silk is an evil person. I don’t fully get it, honestly, but it’s there. At the fair itself, many of the merchants seem to know Silk by previous experience, which makes Durnik nervous that Silk is going to be recognized.

“Isn’t there some danger that somebody’ll recognize you as that other merchant?” Durnik asked. “The one the Murgos are looking for?”
“You mean Ambar? It’s not very likely. Ambar doesn’t come to Arendia very often, and he and Radek don’t look a bit alike.”
“But they’re the same man,” Durnik objected. “They’re both you.”
“Ah,” Silk said, raising one finger, “you and I both know that, but they don’t. To you I will always look like myself, but to others I look quite different.”
Durnik looked profoundly skeptical.

Which makes me wonder if Drasnians have disguise magic in their corner, such that Silk can turn on or off whether he’s recognizable at will, such that when he boasts that Ambar and Radek don’t look anything alike, he’s telling the complete truth, and Durnik is confused because Silk’s not using the disguise magic on him.

The party meets up with Delvor, an agent from Drasnia, and they chat in audible language about commerce and in manual language to establish there was a Murgo at the fair, but he left, and there are some Nadraks, but Delvor can’t tell if they’re real merchants or a cover for somebody. (This worldbuilding, argh.) Delvor offers the use of his tent, and to keep up the disguise, Silk gets to go out selling all of the curios that he hid in the folds of the wool that they’ve been carrying. Aunt Pol tells him not to corrupt Garion too much, since Garion’s acting as Radek’s porter, and Silk gets to go out on the town and practice his merchanting and haggling, which he is clearly enjoying, along with the feeling that comes with it of having swindled people into paying much more than any of his goods are worth. We are told “Garion, swept along by the little man’s enthusiasm, began to understand his friend’s fascination with this game where profit was secondary to the satisfaction of besting an opponent.” Just in case we were worried that Silk might actually be the evil little man he’s been called for enjoying the swindling, we’re told that Silk plays the game not for the money (presumably, he already has and will have more than enough of that for his entire life, being a prince and all that) but for the satisfaction of winning. Which tracks, as best I can tell, about how all the people for whom their money is merely numbers also play the game. They don’t care what happens to everyone else so long as they get the upper hand on someone.

At the end of Silk’s wheeling and dealing, he’s got a bottle of perfume that he doesn’t actually know the value of, which annoys him greatly, because not knowing the value means he doesn’t know what to ask for it in trade. Eventually, he gives it as a gift to Polgara, who remarks upon it as being a “princely” gift, and Silk is left aggravated at the Rivan he traded “two ivory-bound books of Wacite verse” for the perfume. Delvor arrives shortly after with the news that five Murgos and two dozen Thulls have just arrived at the Fair, claiming to have come from the south, but actually coming from the north, because there’s clay on their boots which doesn’t come from the south. Barak suggests the best way to stop the Murgos and Thulls from slowing them down is to kill them all, but Silk says that’s an easy way to get in trouble with the legionnaires that patrol the fair as its police. Delvor tells them that the lead Murgo is named Asharak, which aggravates everyone, and then Garion spots (and Durnik confirms) that Brill is out there as well. Which leads Belgarath to tell Durnik to be visible but not to let on that he knows he’s being watched, which is the beginning of a plan, essentially, to keep Brill’s attention on them by coming and going with just enough frequency that he doesn’t report back to Asharak at any point, denying the intelligence until it will be too late and the party will have escaped out the back of Delvor’s tent while everyone is intently watching the front and waiting for the right time to attempt to capture them. Barak suggests having Hettar just stab Brill in the back, but Belgarath says it’s better to feed him false intelligence instead.

The plan goes according to spec and the chapter ends with a touch of revenge against Asharak that he’ll have to sort out before pursuing them.

Silk shook his friend’s hand. “I’d still like to know where you got those lead coins.”
Delvor winked at him.
“What’s this?” Wolf asked.
“Delvor’s got some Tolnedran crowns stamped out of lead and gilded over,” Silk told him. “He hid some of them in the Murgos’ tent, and tomorrow morning he’s going to go to the legionnaires with a few of them and accuse the Murgos of passing them. When the legionnaires search the Murgos’ tent, they’re sure to find the others.”
“Money’s awfully important to Tolnedrans,” Barak observed. “If the legionnaires get excited enough about those coins, they might start hanging people.”
Delvor smirked. “Wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?”

Everyone sneaks out after this and the chapter finishes properly. If Tolnedra is supposed to be fantasy Rome, though, I believe the correct punishment for this would be crucifixion, because if having an untainted monetary supply is as important to the Tolnedrans as Barak claims it is, this is the kind of offense that you want to leave a warning for anyone else who’s thinking about doing the same. That said, based on what we know so far, I think that the need for a pure money supply would be a Drasnian thing, rather than a Tolnedran one. Also, for someone who knows a bit about historical Rome, lead coins were currency during at least some portions of the Empire. To the point that Romans who kept their currency in their mouths to prevent robbers from getting it, or so the story goes, got lead poisoning. So. Counterfeiting would definitely be seen as a crime against the emperor, with harsh penalties for those who did it, but lead might not be the material to use in this particular case for the counterfeit.

Chapter Nine starts with what would be a great introduction to this book if we were trying to set up the “our heroes are the evil side” idea.

Garion was numb with exhaustion by then, and his mind had drifted into an almost dreamlike trance. The faces of his companions all seemed strange to him as the pale light began to grow stronger. At times he even forgot why they rode. He seemed caught in a company of grim-faced strangers pounding along a road to nowhere through a bleak, featureless landscape with the wind-whipped cloaks flying dark behind them like the clouds scudding low and dirty overhead. A peculiar idea began to take hold of him. The strangers were somehow his captors, and they were taking him away from his real friends. The idea seemed to grow stronger the farther they rode, and he began to be afraid.
Suddenly, without knowing why, he wheeled his horse and broke away, plunging off the side of the road and across the open field beside it.
“Garion!” a woman’s voice called sharply from behind, but he set his heels to his horse’s flanks and sped even faster across the rough field.
One of them was chasing him, a frightening man in black leather with a shaved head and a dark lock at his crown flowing behind him in the wind. In a panic Garion kicked at his horse, trying to make the beast run even faster, but the fearsome rider behind him closed the gap quickly and seized the reins from his hands. “What are you doing?” he demanded harshly.
Garion stared at him, unable to answer.
Then the woman in the blue cloak was there, and the others not far behind her. She dismounted quickly and stood looking at him with a stern face. She was tall for a woman, and her face was cold and imperious. Her hair was very dark, and there was a single white lock at her brow.
Garion trembled. The woman made him terribly afraid.
“Get down off that horse,” she commanded.
“Gently, Pol,” a silvery-haired old man with an evil face said.
A huge red-bearded giant rode closer, threatening, and Garion, almost sobbing with fright, slid down from his horse.
“Come here,” the woman ordered. Falteringly, Garion approached her.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
Hesitantly, he lifted his head and she took his wrist firmly. She opened his fingers to reveal the ugly mark on his palm that he seemed to always have hated and then put his hand against the white lock on her forehead.
“Aunt Pol,” he gasped, the nightmare suddenly dropping away.

Which could either be reality reasserting itself for him, or the evil people putting him into a trance to make him more docile or friendly. Having re-recognized everyone, Garion explains what happened, Belgarath diagnoses the problem as “Garion took his amulet off,” tells him yet again that he can’t remove it for any reason at all, and then with Polgara and her amulet, they do something that involves Garion seeing a vision of Aldur. Presumably this time they’ve set up actual protections and alarms in case someone tries this again. Or possibly even found some manner of instilling in Garion that kind of primal fear that would prevent him from taking of the amulet unless he really had to.

This whole sequence is good for that alternate universe that would probably have been more interesting than the story we have now, and with things described that way, there could be a lot of ambiguity about which of those two worlds is the real one and which of them is the compulsion. I wish we had more of this story, instead.

As it is, Garion points out a raven, which Durnik thinks is suspicious, because it’s circling them, and Polgara says that it’s Chamdar after extending her senses to check (and telling Garion to keep his own mind inside his own body.) After Belgarath tells Polgara that her owl form won’t catch Chamdar’s raven, Polgara instead convinces an eagle to hunt the raven, who doesn’t notice the attack until it’s too late to stop it. With Chamdar chased off, Belgarath decides the best thing to do is make for Vo Mimbre, so that he can tell Korodullin about the infestation he’s got in his kingdom.

“Korodullin?” Durnik looked puzzled. “Wasn’t that the name of the first Arendish king? It seems to me somebody told me that once.”
“All Arendish kings are named Korodullin,” Silk told him. “And the queens are all names Mayaserana. It’s part of the fiction the royal family here maintains to keep the kingdom from flying apart. They have to marry as closely within the bloodline as possible to maintain the illusion of the unification of the houses of Mimbre and Asturia. It makes them all a bit sickly, but there’s no help for it—considering the peculiar nature of Arendish politics.”
“All right, Silk,” Aunt Pol said reprovingly.

So all the Rivan Warders are named Brand, all the Nyissan queens are named Salmissra, all the Arendish kings are Korodullin and all the queens are Mayaserana. I feel like this author really hated coming up with names, so he found as many excuses as possible to keep reusing them.

Also, this is going to sound stupid as everything, but given how much a goodly number of Asturians seem to want open rebellion and the opportunity to crush Mimbrates, where are they finding the queens Mayaserana from if they’re supposed to be Asturian? Are there enough sympathizers in the Asturian nobility to find a suitable woman every time there needs to be a new one? I’m pretty sure Silk’s comment is supposed to mean that the royal family routinely marries within the boundary lines of consanguinity, with the attendant sex-linked recessives and rarer genetic diseases that spring up in the royal families of Latin Christendom, but I’m trying to figure out why this would be necessary if there are willing Asturian women who can trace their lineage to the original Mayaserana who could be brought in for needed genetic diversity. (The problem with reading a paint-by-numbers fantasy that runs on popular perception of the tropes is when you have at least a little training in the time periods they’re mimicking, the mimicry quickly becomes annoying or aggravating because of how wrong it is.) If there aren’t any Asturian women willing to take on the fiction of being a Mayaserana, then presumably this whole thing should have exploded long before this point, and then it doesn’t matter where the Mimbrate king finds his wife, because the supposed peace brokered has been shattered. Which, I suppose, would draw the ire of Ancient Belgarath or his daughter, but it’s been long enough, I think, that most people think of Belgarath as a figure of legend, rather than the old man standing in front of them. (YEEEES! MA-GIC HEL-MET! And I’ll Give You A SAAAAM-PLLLE!) So, again, why do we have this situation, other than “the author picked and chose which bits he wanted to include without thinking about the whys or how it might affect the world”?

There’s a little back and forth about how Chamdar is probably trying to set himself up as Grolim High Priest at this point, and a travelogue, where Garion figures out that he was targeted by Chamdar, but Belgarath doesn’t say the real reason why instead, and where Garion can’t find anything other than “he’s an Arend” as a reason why to dislike Mandorallen, believing everything else that he has as a reason was influenced by Lelldorin.

And then there’s a lady, which has a story behind it, and the narrative takes time while telling this story to mock Durnik and his beliefs.

“When Mandorallen was about Garion’s age, he showed a great deal of promise—strong, courageous, not too bright—the qualities that make a good knight. His father asked me for advice, and I made arrangements for the young man to live for a while with the Baron of Vo Ebor—that’s his castle back there. The baron had an enormous reputation, and he provided Mandorallen with the kind of instruction he needed. Mandorallen and the baron became almost like father and son, since the baron was quite a bit older. Everything was going along fine until the baron got married. His bride, however, was much younger—about Mandorallen’s age.”
“I think I see where this is going,” Durnik remarked disapprovingly.
“Not exactly,” Wolf disagreed. “After the honeymoon, the baron returned to his customary knightly pursuits and left a very bored young lady wandering around his castle. It’s a situation with all kinds of interesting possibilities. Anyway, Mandorallen and the lady exchanged glances—then words—the usual sort of thing.”
“It happens in Sendaria, too,” Durnik observed, “but I’m sure the name we have for it is different from the one they use here.” His tone was critical, even offended.
“You’re jumping to conclusions, Durnik,” Wolf told him. “Things never went any further. It might have been better if they had. Adultery isn’t really all that serious, and in time they’d have gotten bored with it. But, since they both loved and respected the baron too much to dishonor him, Mandorallen left the castle before things could get out of hand. Now they both suffer in silence.[…]”

This is in line with other mockery of Sendarian prudery that’s happened beforehand, usually with Durnik as the target of the same. It’s actually a nice change of pace from how fantasy worlds often uncritically parrot various conservative Christian moralities without thinking about whether they actually apply in the case of the world built. (In Garion’s case, everyone wants to make sure he doesn’t get busy because there’s probably prophecy or other things involved with him.) Right after Belgarath displays this pragmatism of belief, though, the author does decide that Polgara also needs some mockery.

“Does the baron know about it?” Durnik asked.
“Naturally,” Wolf replied. “That’s the part that makes the Arends get all mushy inside about it. There was a knight once, stupider than most Arends, who made a bad joke about it. The baron promptly challenged him and ran a lance through him during the duel. Since then very few people have found the situation humorous.”
“It’s still disgraceful,” Durnik said.
“Their behavior’s above reproach, Durnik,” Aunt Pol maintained firmly. “There’s no shame in it as long as it doesn’t go any further.”
“Decent people don’t allow it to happen in the first place,” Durnik asserted.
“You’ll never convince her, Durnik,” Mister Wolf told the smith. “Polgara spent too many years associating with the Wacite Arends. They were as bad or worse than the Mimbrates. You can’t wallow in that kind of sentimentality for that long without some of it rubbing off. Fortunately it hasn’t totally blotted out her good sense. She’s only occasionally girlish and gushy. If you can avoid her during those seizures, it’s almost as if there was nothing wrong with her.”
“My time was spent a little more usefully than yours, father,” Aunt Pol observed acidly. “As I remember, you spent those years carousing in the waterfront dives in Camaar. And then there was that uplifting period you spent amusing the depraved women of Maragor. I’m certain those experiences broadened your concept of morality enormously.”
Mister Wolf coughed uncomfortably and looked away.

It backfires spectacularly, of course, because despite the general sex-positivity of the position of “eh, adultery, whatever” (ETA: sex-positive in this case means “having sex is a good thing and people should do it rather than contort themselves into painful positions to avoid doing what they want” rather than any broader, more general message about it being a good idea to break contracts and promises that someone has made to someone else, since there’s no corresponding worldbuilding about how seriously Arends take marriage vows or whether they think of them as things that come alongn with pre-arranged marriages or the like) and the consistent “no, Durnik, the world does not work according to your prudery” messaging, we still have this argument that Polgara’s infatuation with courtly love is a morally superior position to Belgarath’s time with the sex workers. I have to guess it is because sex workers and actual sex with sex workers is immoral in this world, because the narrative does not say anything about how Polgara is alone in her opinion, and also, Belgarath looks embarrassed about that being brought up, so presumably there’s at least some shame component attached to it. I’m guessing the approved relationship model here is something like “healthy sex life, probably within the confines of a religiously blessed union, with a partner who does not do sex work,” which is sort of the U.S. default official position for someone who doesn’t have a more conservative or liberal interpretation they are being vocal about.

The “Polgara loves courtly romance and the Arends and it makes her turn into a giggling, gushing girl devoid of sense” thing can go die in a fire. Women are allowed to like nice things and to request things like baths or be charmed by an accent and cadence that hasn’t been heard in a while. She can like all these things and still be a shit parent and a Sorceress Supreme and all of those other things and we don’t have to descend to the level of “at least I don’t spend my free time drinking and whoring” to get there.

The plot continues with the party getting prepared to enter Vo Mimbre, having inquired of monks that don’t lie and also answer any questions they’re asked as to whether any Murgos have passed their way and received a negative answer. Which doesn’t mean much when you’re dealing with people who want to wipe their presence from your mind or otherwise manipulate it, but I guess this is supposed to be taken as reliable information. Polgara insists on everyone being properly dressed to make good impressions. Belgarath is not having any of the fancy clothing options, but that doesn’t deter Polgara.

“Lots of things are silly, father. I know the Arends better than you do. You’ll get more respect if you look the part. Mandorallen and Hettar and Barak will wear their armor; Durnik and Silk and Garion can wear the doublets Fulrach gave them in Sendar; I’ll wear my blue gown, and you’ll wear the white robe. I insist, father.”
“You what? Now listen here, Polgara—”
“Be still, father,” she said absently, examining Garion’s blue doublet.
Wolf’s face darkened, and his eyes bulged dangerously.
“Was there something else?” she asked with a level gaze.
Mister Wolf let it drop.
“He’s as wise as they say he is,” Silk observed.

Well, there’s also the possibility that he might not be doing it all of his own accord. The Will and the Word, after all, could mean that there was some extra oomph behind it and Garion doesn’t notice. Because, was she is currently characterized, I expect Polgara would use something like that on her own father as a way of settling the argument before it can begin. (She even says this in a not quoted bit above about how they might argue about it for an hour or two, but she’s getting her way regardless of his objections.) And also, the explanation consistently used “Be [Z]” as the usual way of phrasing the Word to enact the Will.

Having gotten everyone the way she wants them, the party enters Vo Mimbre and the chapter ends. There’s probably going to be more action in the next chapter than there was in this one, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

Queen of Sorcery: The Average Emotional Commitment of an Arend

Last time, the adventuring company got ambushed, which was profoundly disturbing to Durnik, got accosted on the Imperial Highway, which was profoundly aggravating to the Tolnedran legion captain trying to keep the Mimbrates off the highway, got to see the lives of the serfs up close, which appeared to be profoundly disturbing to Lelldorin, and Asharak has his mental claws in Garion again, which is profoundly aggravating to me.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapters Six and Seven: Content Notes: privilege guilt, protagonist-centered morality, sexism, mind control

Having now seen the plight of the serfs up close, Lelldorin is ready to right the wrong completely, in the kind of way that people who have just learned about a structural wrong are wont to do.

“How can they bear it?”
“Do they have any choice?”
“My father at least looks after the people on his land,” the young man asserted defensively. “No one goes hungry or without shelter—but those people are treated worse than animals. I’ve always been proud of my station, but now it makes me ashamed.” Tears actually stood in his eyes.
[…Garion’s glad Lelldorin gets it, but he’s not sure what Lelldorin’s going to say next…]
“I’ll renounce my rank,” Lelldorin declared suddenly as if he had been listening to Garion’s thoughts, “and when I return from this quest, I’ll go among the serfs and share their lives—their sorrows.”
“What good will that do? How would your suffering in any way make theirs less?” Lelldorin looked up sharply, a half-dozen emotions chasing each other across his open face. Finally he smiled, but there was a determination in his blue eyes. “You’re right, of course,” he said. You always are. It’s amazing how you can always see directly to the heart of a problem, Garion.”
“Just what have you got in mind?” Garion asked a little apprehensively.
“I’ll lead them in revolt. I’ll sweep across Arendia with an army of serfs at my back.” His voice rang as his imagination fired with the idea.
Garion groaned. “Why is that always your answer to everything, Lelldorin?” he demanded. “In the first place, the serfs don’t have any weapons and they don’t know how to fight. No matter how hard you talk, you’d never get them to follow you. In the second place, if they did, every nobleman in Arendia would join ranks against you. They’d butcher your army, and afterward, things would be ten times worse. In the third place, you’d just be starting another civil war, and that’s exactly what the Murgos want.”
Lelldorin blinked several times as Garion’s words sank in. His face gradually grew mournful again. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he confessed.
“I didn’t think you had. You’re going to keep making those mistakes as long as you keep carrying your brain in the same scabbard with your sword, Lelldorin.

Seems like Garion’s inner voice came out to say hello again. Or Garion’s been paying a lot more attention to everyhing than the narrative has been letting on.

That said, this is exactly correct with regard to how many people react when confronted with the reality of systemic oppression and their own complicity in it. Shame and embarrassment and a want to fix the thing immediately, or to somehow make a gesture to absolve oneself of the matter entirely, because nobody likes finding out that they’ve been oppressing other people. So long as the “other” is an abstract concept, something that isn’t your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, your child, you don’t have to feel responsible, but as soon as it’s someone you know, then there’s a problem. And Lelldorin does what most people do in that situation and makes it about himself, instead of about the people who are being oppressed. He’ll give up his place, or he’ll make himself the leader of a serf revolt and fix things, but it’s about him, and not about them. A thing that would be more likely to help would be to free the serfs and provide them with enough to get themselves established and able to survive on their own, and then deal with them as people from that point forward. And then to talk to all of their neighbors and friends and convince them to do the same thing, possibly by showing how much more successful your people are by being free and able to bargain themselves, rather than as serfs. I doubt Lelldorin or his father will go that far, and I suspect that the longer Lelldorin stays away from contemplating the plight of the serfs, the more likely it is he’s not going to do anything at all.

Garion says that Arends aren’t stupid, just impulsive, and Lelldorin points out the places they are about to cross are full of bodies, many of them unburied but for the moss growing on them, because it’s the best place for people to ambush each other, and they have been for as long as the wars have been going on, and that’s not impulsive at all. And they have two days of travel in this space where they can all be reminded of past destruction.

“Two days, probably.”
Two days? And it’s all like this?”
Lelldorin nodded.
Why?” Garion’s tone was harsher, more accusing than he’d intended.
“At first for pride—and honor,” Lelldorin replied. “Later for grief and revenge. Finally it was simply because we didn’t know how to stop. As you said before, sometimes we Arends aren’t very bright.”
“But always brave,” Garion answered quickly.
“Oh yes,” Lelldorin admitted. “Always brave. It’s our national curse.”

It almost sounds like Brand’s plan to get the factions to stop fighting by having them marry was doomed from the start, because the hat of the Arends is that they’re gangs, and gangs have an infinite amount of wrongs to revenge themselves with, and they recruit people by telling them they’ve been wronged by someone else, and then once the cycle starts, it won’t stop until everyone’s dead or they somehow manage to actually let go of the wrongs and make a peace, and then stick to it. It’s going to end either in geocide or reconciliation. No wonder Belgarath doesn’t want anything to do with the place.

The plot continues with the party getting attacked by Algroths, which are troll-cousins, but the kind of entities that don’t leave survivors when they attack. Lelldorin suggests a tor where someone held off a Mimbrate army for a month as a good defensive point, and the party books it for that space, slashing and stabbing along the way. The Algroths have venomous claws, and for once, it’s not Garion who gets clawed along the way, it’s Lelldorin. Once the party is secure in a defensible place, they work to get the venom out of Lelldorin, which requires a certain amount of magic from Polgara to light a fire in the rain, but after that, it’s mostly boiling water and lancing wounds that are trying to close over venomous blood. While that’s going on, a horn blows, which Belgarath says is the sign of someone he’s expecting, and whistles to let that person know where they are. The unknown person makes a grand entrance a few paragraphs later, after another horn blow.

And then a huge horse bearing a man in full armor bust out of the trees and thundered down upon the attacking creatures. The armored man crouched over his lance and plunged directly into the midst of the startled Algroths. The great horse screamed as he charged, and his iron-shod hoofs churned up big clots of mud. The lance crashed through the chest of one of the largest Algroths and splintered from the force of the blow. The splintered end took another full in the face. The knight discarded the shattered lance and drew his broadsword with a single sweep of his arm. With wide swings to the right and the left he chopped his way through the pack, his warhorse trampling the living and the dead alike into the mud of the road. At the end of his charge he whirled and plunged back again, onve more opening a path with his sword. The Algroths turned and fled howling into the woods.
“Mandorallen!” Wolf shouted. “Up here!”
The armored knight raised his blood-spattered visor and looked up the hill. “Permit me to disperse this rabble first, mine ancient friend,” he answered gaily, clanged down his visor, and plunged into the rainy woods after the Algroths.
“Hettar!” Barak shouted, already moving.
Hettar nodded tersely, and the two of them ran to their horses. They swung into their saddles and plunged down the wet slope to the aid of the stranger.
“Your friend shows a remarkable lack of good sense,” Silk observed to Mister Wolf, wiping the rain from his face. “Those things will turn on him any second now.”
“It probably hasn’t occurred to him that he’s in any danger,” Wolf replied. “He’s a Mimbrate, and they tend to think they’re invincible.”

*siiiigh* So we have two different hot-blooded people trying to share the same territory, then. No wonder they’re always fighting, revenging, and avenging each other. None of them have a lick of sense in their heads.

Mandorallen, Barak, and Hettar beat back the Algroths, and then Mandorallen is more formally introduced.

“And pray tell, who is this lady, whose beauty doth bedazze mine eye?”
“A pretty speech, Sir Knight,” Aunt Pol replied with a rich laugh, her hand going almost unconsciously to her damp hair. “I’m going to like this one, father.”
“The legendary Lady Polgara?” Mandorallen asked. “My life hath now seen its crown.” His courty bow was somewhat marred by the creaking of his armor.

And apparently his flattery works on Polgara, which very well sounds very shallow and very “wimmins, amirite?” to me. She’s a freaking unaging sorceress, and you’re telling me she reacts like this to courtly speech? It really seems like the narrative wants to undercut Polgara at every turn with “But don’t forget, she’s a WOMAN and WOMEN are susceptible to flattery and other things that mean Polgara’s not actually reliable enough to achieve anything important.”

Lelldorin’s introduction has Mandorallen remark that the rumor mill says Lelldorin is rebelling against the crown, but Belgarath basically says “what we’re doing is more important” and before Mandorallen can argue anything, the shadowless rider appears. Garion, of course, can’t actually remember what the important thing he needs to know about this encounter, but unlike all the other times, this time, the rider pulls down his hood, revealing “a steel mask cat in the form of a face that was at once beauriful and strangely repelling”, and then he speaks. As it turns out, this is not Asharak again, but another Grolim by the name of Chamdar, who is dropping in to see how the Prophecy is going with Belgarath and how he managed to translate/interpret it into actionable language. And to taunt a little bit about how it’s inevitable that Zedar wil get the Orb to Torak and so all their effort is for nothing. Except he doesn’t seem to believe it quite as much as he should.

“It isn’t complete yet, old man.”
“It will be, Chamdar,” Wolf replied confidently. “I’ve already seen to that.”
“Which is the one who will live twice?” the figure asked suddenly.
Wolf smiled codly, but did not answer.
“Hail, my Queen,” the figue said mockingly then to Aunt Pol.
“Grolim courtesy always leaves me quite cold,” she returned with a frosty look. “I’m not your queen, Chamdar.”
“You will be, Polgara. My Master said that you are to become his wife when he comes into his kingdom. You’ll be queen of all the world.”
“That puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, doesn’t it, Chamdar? If I’m o become your queen, you can’t really cross me, can you?”
“I can work around you, Polgara, and once you’ve become the bride of Torak, his will becomes your will. I’m sure you won’t hold any old grudges at that point.”
“I think we’ve had about enough of this, Chamdar,” Mister Wolf said. Your conversation’s beginning to bore me. You can have your shadow back now.” He waved his hand negligently as if brushing away a troublesome fly. “Go,” he commanded.
Once again, Garion felt that strange surge and that hollow roaring in his mind. The horseman vanished.
“You didn’t destroy him, did you?” Silk gasped in a shocked voice.
“No,” Mister Wolf told him. “It was all just an illusion. It’s a childish trick the Grolims find impressive. A shadow can be projected over quite some distance if you want to take the trouble. All I did was send his shadow back to him.” He grinned suddenly with a sly twist to his lips. “Of course, I selected a somewhat indirect route. It may take a few days to make the trip. It won’t actualy hurt him, but it’s going to make him a bit uncomfortable—and extremely conspicuous.”

Chamdar is then mentioned to be one of the chief Grolim priests, and when Polgara says Lelldorin is going to be down for at least a week, Durnik suggests rigging up a litter to transport him between some horses, which is accepted as a suggestion, since they still need to make ground and not be exposed. Which gets us through the end of Chapter 6.

I’m still a bit miffed that Grolim mind tricks still work on Garion, given that Polgara and Belgarath just broke one and would presumably have thought to shield him against the others, preferably in some other way than an amulet that can be taken off. On the same logic of it still working and the last one working, one would think that Belgarath wouldn’t use that same “the Grolims think it’s impressive” tone as if it were something so far beneath him that he would never use it. Because it’s still pretty clearly working on Garion. And, yet again, they haven’t noticed that it’s happening. So it’s got to be more than just “well, the primitive foreigners think it’s impressive, but the Civilized people don’t.” going on here.

Also, there’s a particularly creepy vibe to “our God has chosen you as his bride, and when everything is complete, you won’t have any free will to resist him, so enjoy your incoming reality as his slave!” I realize that the sexual assault threat has to go to Polgara, because, at least up to this point, we don’t have any other women in the party, but still, Sorcerors of Gor doesn’t really seem like the thing you want to be emulating, y’know?

So, Chapter 7, for the most part, is going to be “Yet another of Chamdar’s subordinates creates a delay,” but there will be some choice parts worth quoting in it, so here we go all the same. The first part of the chapter is about Lelldorin’s steadily worsening condition as the party continues to try and make time. Garion has decided that his opinion of Mandorallen is that he has “an egotism so pure that there was a kind of innocence about it[…]and Mandorallen’s extravagant courtesy to Aunt Pol struck Garion as beyond the bounds of proper civility. To make maters even worse, Aunt Pol seemed quite willing to accept the knight’s flatteries at face value.” Garion seems satisfied that the other men seem to have the same kind of opinion of Mandorallen, and his attempts at telling Lelldorin to bear his injury with good cheer gets him pointedly told to go somewhere else. (Which he does, but not before complaining about Lelldorin’s incivility.) I don’t know if Pol is genuinely interested in the flattery, or whether she considers this to be part of her proper due from everyone, and only Mandorallen has figured out how to properly worship her. It still feels like “wimmins, amirite?” in this context, despite it being Garion who is complaining.

And, as expected, Eddings makes the mistake of confusing thee/thou for formality.

“Do they all talk like that?” Garion asked with a certain rancor. “Thee’s and thou’s and doth’s?”
“Mimbrates tend to be very formal,” Aunt Pol explained. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I think it sounds stupid,” Garion muttered darkly, glaring after the knnight.
“An example of good manners won’t hurt you all that much, Garion.”

Which I wouldn’t have batted at eye at as the reader during the time when this book is something to be read, but if Mimbrates were formal, it they would constantly be using “you” and “one” and so forth.

Anyway, Garion asks about the whole “Bride of Torak” and “Prophecy” thing, and while he doesn’t get brushed off this time, Polgara indicates she’s not all that interested in the being betrothed to the evil god or the Mrin Codex, and how it talks about “the bear, the rat, the man who will live twice” and now I know why Silk in the first book keeps getting referred to as “rat-faced” and Barak is the territory of the Bear God and has the Doom.

There’s a commotion in front of them, which Mandorallen goes to investigate, and sadly reports back that there’s a war going on in front of them, which they can’t go around, and so Mandorallen suggests the most direct route he knows.

“Do you think they’ll take money to let us pass?” Durnik asked dubiously.
“In Arendia there is another way to make such purchase, Goodman,” Mandorallen responded. “May I prevail upon thee to obtain six or eight stout poles perhaps twenty feet in length and about as thick as my wrist at the butt?”
“Of course.” Durnik took up his axe.
“What have you got in mind?” Barak rumbled.
“I will challenge them,” Mandorallen announced calmly, “one or all. No true knight could refust me without being called craven. Will thou be my second and deliver my challenge, my Lord?”
“What if you lose?” Silk suggested.
Lose?” Mandoralled seemed shocked. “I? Lose?

…yep. Because they’re Arends, this is supposed to make completely logial sense. Rather than both armies going “Fuck off, we’re fighting!” or “I don’t see an army. Crush ’em.” And so…

“Sir Mandorallen, Baron of Vo Mimbre, desires entertainment,” he [Barak] declaimed. “It wouls amuse him if each of your parties would select a champion to joust wih him. If, however, you are all such cowardly dogs that you have no somach for such a contest, cease this brawling and stand aside so that your betters may pass.”
“Splendidly spoken, my Lord Barak,” Mandorallen said with admiration.
“I’ve always had a way with words,” Barak replied modestly.

What’s the cause of this war? An insult. When Mandorallen asks what the insult was, neither of them can answer, which makes Mandorallen boggle even more, before there’s even more words thrown.

“Of Sir Mandorallen the bastard we have all heard,” a swarthy knight in black enamelled armor sneered, “but who is this red-bearded ape who so maligns his betters?”
“You’re going to take that?” Barak asked Mandorallen.
“It’s more or less true,” Mandorallen admitted with a pained look, “since there was some temporary irregularity about my birth which still raises questions about my legitimacy. This knight is Sir Haldorin, my third cousin—twice removed.Since it’s considered unseemly in Arendia to spill the blood of kinsmen, he thus cheaply gains reputation for boldness by casting the matter in my teeth.”
“Stupid custom,” Barak grunted. “In Cherek kinsmen kill each other with more enthusiasm than they kill strangers.”
“Alas,” Mandorallen sighed. “This is not Cherek.”
“Would you be offended if I dealt with this?” Barak asked politely.
“Not at all.”
Barak moved closer to the swarthy knight. “I am Barak, Earl of Trellheim,” he announced in a loud voice, “kinsman to King Anheg of Cherek, and I see that certain nobles in Arendia have even fewer manners than they have brains.”
“The Lords of Arendia are not impressed by the self-bestowed titles of the pig-sty kingdoms of the north,” Sir Haldorin retorted coldly.
“I find your words offensive, friend,” Barak said ominously.
“And I find thy ape face and scraggly beard amusing,” Sir Haldorin replied.
Barak did not even bother to draw his sword. He swung his buge arm in a wide circle and crashed his fist with stunning force against the side of the swarthy knight’s helmet. Sir Haldorin’s eyes glazed as he was swept from his saddle, and he made a vast clatter when he struck the ground.

After this display, one of the knights in the party suggests just killing them all with their numbers, like a sensible army should, but Mandorallen threatens to kill him if he pulls his sword, and then chides everyone on not having their manners. Because, apparently, a challenge like this guarantees safe passage for the challenger until the challenge is done. So Mandorallen gets his jousts. Silk makes a comment about whether they should be concerned about whether Mandorallen will lose, and Belgarath tells him there’s no chance. He’s apparently just that good.
The first jouster takes three lances before being unhorsed, and then when he tries to keep fighting, gets bashed in the head by Mandorallen’s sword and declared vanquished when he doesn’t respond. He also has a bloody nose, his eyes have rolled back, his face is blue, and his right side is twitching. The second jouster only takes one lance, and being unhorsed breaks his leg.

Challenges complete, the party makes a move to proceed, but they’re stopped by the kill them all knight from before, who turns out to be not just a Murgo, but a Grolim. (Yawn.)

“Well, Grolim?” Aunt Pol challenged, pushing back her hood.
The mounted man’s eyes widened as he saw the white lock in her hair, and then he raised his hand almost despairingly, muttering rapidly under his breath.
Once again Garion felt that strange surge, and the hollow roaring filled his mind.
For an instant Aunt Pol’s figure seemed surrounded by a kind of greenish light. She waved her hand indifferently, and the light disappeared. “You must be out of practice,” she told him. “Would you like to try again?”
The Grolim raised both hands this time, but got no further. Maneuvering his horse carefully behind the armored man, Durnik had closed on him. With both hands he raised his axe and smashed it down directly on top of the Grolim’s helmet.
“Durnik!” Aunt Pol shouted. “Get away!”
But the smith, his face set grimly, swung again, and the Grolim slid senseless from his saddle with a crash.
“You fool!” Aunt Pol raged. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“He was attacking you, Mistress Pol,” Durnik explained, his eyes still hot.
“Get down off that horse.”
He slid down.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” she demanded. “He could have killed you.”
“I will protect you, Mistress Pol,” Durnik replied stubbornly. “I’m not a warrior or a magician, but I won’t let anybody ry to hurt you.”
Her eyes widened in surprise for an instant, then narrowed, then softened. Garion, who had known her from childhood, recognized her rapid change of emotion. Without warning, she suddenly embraced the startled Durnik. “You great, clumby, dear fool,” she said. “Never do that again—never! You almost made my heart stop.”
Garion looked away with a strange lump in his throat and saw the brief, sly smile that flickered across Mister Wolf’s face.

This seems like another one of those things that you should tell people about. Because the most tactically sound thing to do when the enemy spellcaster is in combat or distracted by your spellcasters is to bash them on the head so they stop trying to use their magic against your people. If that causes uncontrolled magic explosions that can lash out and hurt people, that’s worth knowing before someone gets the bright idea to do it.

Once the Grolim goes insensate, it turns out that he had been using his magic to create the war as a way of slowing the party down. Once free of the mind control, the knights are more than happy to let the party pass, and they have a particularly grisly fate in mind for the foreigner that mind-whammied them into fighting each other. Which is a lost opportunity, honestly. This could have just been Arends being stupid Arends until someone beat sense into them, and maybe even you could have the war resume as soon as they left because, well, a forgotten insult is just the kind of thing that keeps going on and on and on. Not everything has to be a Grolim plot or something similar.

The newly-freed knights are asked to take care of Lelldorin, because he’s going to be a hindrance. Lelldorin, naturally, will have none of this, and it takes some harsh words from Mandorallen to finally get him to stay put.

“Young Lelldorin,” Mandorallen replied bluntly, even harshly, “I know thy distaste for the men of Mimbre. Thy wound, however, will soon begin to abscess and then suppurate, and raging fever and delirium will afflict thee, making thy presence a burden upon us. We have not the time to care for thee, and thy sore need would delay us in our quest.”
Garion fasped at the brutal directness of the knight’s words. He glared at Mandorallen with something very close to hatred.
[…Lelldorin thinks he’s still going to go, even after Pol forbids him to it, and one of the women who comes to tend to Lelldorin finally sits him down…]
She shrugged. “As it please thee. I expect that my brother will be able to spare some few servants to follow after thee to provide thee that decent burial which, if I misjudge not, thou wil require before thou hast gone ten leagues.”
Lelldorin blinked.

Having finally been convinced that he’s not going anywhere, Lelldorin pulls Garion in close, tells him to go warn the king about the plot that he’s part of, and reveals to Garion that Nachak is the ambassador at the court, the “personal representative of Taur Urgas, King of the Murgos.” Which means that he has both endless resources and the king’s ear at his disposal, and the plot Garion knows of might be just one of many, so Garion’s job just got a whole lot harder. Plus, all of the burden of who to tell and when falls on Garion. (That said, despite now having a clear pathway to explain everything to the other people in the party, even though he’s said he won’t name names, Garion is going to wait to actually say something, instead of immediately going to Belgarath and spilling the entire affair. For reasons that I can best describe as “the author wants maximum drama, so the sensible decision never happens.”)

Once the party gets back on the road, Garion decides to have it out with Mandorallen.

With deliberate purpose, Garion pulled his horse forward until he drew in beside Mandorallen. “I have something to say to you,” he said hotly. “You aren’t going to like it, but I don’t really care.”
“Oh?” the knight replied mildly.
“I think the way you talked to Lelldorin back there was cruel and disgusting,” Garion told him. “You might think you’re the greatest knight in the world, but I think you’re a loudmouthed braggart with no more compassion than a block of stone, and if you don’t like it, what do you plan to do about it?”
“Ah,” Mandorallen said. “That! I think that thou has misunderstood, my young friend. It was necessary in order to save his life. The Asturian youth is very brave and so gives no thought to himself. Had I not spoken so to him, he would surely have insisted upon continuing with us and would soon have died.”
“Died?” Garion scoffed. “Aunt Pol could have cured him.”
“It was the Lady Polgara herself who informed me that his life was in danger,” Mandorallen replied. “His honor would not permit him to remain behind lest he delay us.” The knight smiled wryly. “He will, I think, be no fonder of me for my words than thou art, but he will be alive, and that’s what matters, is it not?”
Garion stared at the arrogant-seeming Mimbrate, his anger suddenly robbed of its target. With painful clarity he realized that he had just made a fool of himself. “I’m sorry,” he apologized grudgingly. “I didn’t realize what you were doing.”
Mandorallen shrugged. “It’s not important. I’m frequently misunderstood. As long as I know my motives are good, however, I’m seldom very concerned with the opinions of others. I’m glad, though, that I had the opportunity to explain this to thee. Thou art to be my companion, and i ill-behooves companions to have misapprehensions about each other.”
They rold on in silence as Garion struggled to readjust his thinking. There was, it seemed, much more to Mandorallen than he had suspected.

One more sentence about turning south and Chapter 7 is finished. So.

Cocowhat by depizan

Garion doesn’t have to back down or apologize for anything. Just because Mandorallen believes being that harsh was necessary to get Lelldorin to finally stay down and heal doesn’t mean he isn’t the worst kind of egotistical asshole. (The worst kind being someone who can, in fact, back up their bluster.) After all, Mandorallen just freely admitted to Garion that he doesn’t give a rip what other people think about him, so long as he believes he’s right. We’ve noted that these stories are very much working on Protagonist-Centered Morality, and here Mandorallen is to explicitly say that he believes he’s the Protagonist. In his favor, he’s the closest we get to the knight in shining armor, the kind of character who would be the Protagonist if we didn’t have the plucky farm boy instead. Against him, the same thing, although at the time these are written, we don’t have quite the same ease of access to the vocabulary that allows us to articulate that he has privilege and has probably never had to spend a day of his life where he wasn’t nobility or the most important character in the story. In a more comedic work, the narrative would start following him around before being taken back to the actual story, or some very important thing to the plot would have happened while the narrative was following Mandorallen doing such things as brushing his horse or cutting himself some additional lances. Here, I would find it most satisfying to see Mandorallen repeatedly go do something because he’s sure of his rightness and turn out to be completely wrong about it in ways that actively hurt the quest or the party, in the same way that Lelldorin was eventually convinced of the wrongness of serfdom by seeing what the actual effects are (and by having Garion shoot down all of his surface level beliefs on how he could fix it.)

Next week, well, hopefully we’ve gathered all the people we need at this point and we can stay moving in the direction of actually trying to foil the plot?

Queen of Sorcery: The Average Intelligence of an Arend

Last time, the adventuring company stopped for the night at a relative of Lelldorin’s, where one cousin was trying to assimilate into Mimbrate society (supposedly because he’s chasing a girl who won’t give him the time of day without land) and the other is also a conspirator in this Murgo-assisted assassination plot. Also, Garion’s inner voice said “hold my beer” and explained to the Arends the secret of Murgo gold and the stupidity of following along with a Murgo’s plot.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapter Four: Content Notes:

Reldegen asks Begarath to stop by more often and let them talk a couple months away, which Belgarath declines because of his urgent business. Silk mentions that he thinks Reldegen is remarkable because he “actually detected an original thought or two in his head.” Barak praises his food, to which Polgara notes that Barak would feel good about it, having consumed the greater portion of a deer all by himself. Lelldorin is still chagrined by the talking-to he got from Garion’s inner voice yesterday, and Garion tells Lelldorin to spit it out rather than be concerned about how it will land. Which surprises Lelldorin that his emotions can be read that well, of course. That said, Garion does get Lelldorin to tell him about how Nachak the Murgo recruited them into his plan.

“He told us what the king is planning. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Probably not.”
Lelldorin gave him a quick, troubled look. “He’s going to break up our estates and give them to landless Mimbrate nobles.” He said it accusingly.
“Did you verify it with anybody but Nachak?”
“How could we? The Mimbrates wouldn’t admit it if we confronted them with it. It’s the kind of thing Mimbrates would do.”
“So you’ve only go Nachak’s word for it? How did this plan of yours come up?”
[…Nachak appealed to their nationalism, then started giving them money out of friendship…]
“You’re an Asturian,” Garion told him. “You’d give somebody your life out of friendship. Nachak’s a Murgo, though, and I’ve never heard that they were all that generous. What is comes down to, then, is that a stranger tells you that the king’s planning to take your land. Then he gives you a plan to kill the king and start a war with Tolnedra; and to make sure you succeed with his plan, he gives you money. Is that about it?”
Lelldorin nodded mutely, his eyes stricken.
“Weren’t any of you just the least bit suspicious?”
Lelldorin seemed almost about to cry. “It’s such a good plan,” he burst out finally. “It couldn’t help but succeed.”
“That’s what makes it so dangerous,” Garion replied.

Apparently with a snarky inner voice comes wisdom. Also, “they’re going to take your land and redistribute it to their own people” is something I’m still a bit surprised hasn’t already happened, given that it seems that the Asturians didn’t exactly decide to integrate with the Mimbrates since Brand, Polgara, and Belgarath basically told them they had to. This whole trip seems to be designed around proving that the stereotypes about Arends are all true, every last one of them. They’re willing to go along with someone who would probably profit a lot more from his own plot succeeding than the “patriots” that he’s recruiting to do it for him, because the plan is too good not to turn him down? That’s not very bright, but there’s also red gold involved, so…

Also, how does Garion know that Murgos aren’t generous? All the stories he’s heard and the actions he’s seen suggest that Murgos are more than happy to give away their red, soul-corrupting gold because of the leverage that it gives them over the minds and bodies of others. Which, I suppose, doesn’t count as generosity if they expect that result, but most people in this world don’t know or don’t believe the stories about red soul-corrupting gold, so “generous” would be an apt description to use to then close the trap on Lelldorin’s logic, for what good it will do.

In any case, Garion suggests that the best thing to do would be to tell Wolf about the plot and who is behind it, but Garion says he’s going to defer to Lelldorin’s decision out of friendship, which would be a better thing to do if the narrative made it clearer that Garion was only saying this after heavily implying that the only correct course of action would be to tell somebody about it. Right after that, Garion attempts to get Lelldorin to see the plight of the serfs again, by calling a serf village not fit for pigs in Sendaria.

Two ragged serfs were dispiritedly hacking chunks of firewood from one of the stumps near the road. As the party approached, hey dropped their axes and bolted in terror for the forest.
“Does it make you feel proud, Lelldorin?” Garion demanded. “Does it make you feel good to know that your own countrymen are so afraid of you that they run from the very sight of you?”
Lelldorin looked bafled. “They’re serfs, Garion,” he said as if that explained.
“They’re men. They’re not animals. Men deserve to be treated better.”
“I can’t do anything about it. They aren’t my serfs.” And with that Lelldorin’s attention turned inward again as he continued to struggle with the dilemma Garion had placed upon him.

By which, I think the narrative means to tell or not to tell about the assassination plot, not whether or not serfs deserve basic humanity. “They’re not my property” would ring some bells about the villainy of the mindset involved to a reader that was willing to think hard about their own history and how that phrase might have been applied to other people who were denied basic humanty for a very long time. It really does seem like the best thing for everyone would have been to skip Arendia, or at the very least, try to get through without stopping for anything or anyone they didn’t absolutely have to interact with.

Especially since after making camp for the night, they’re ambushed by robbers, which Hettar warns them about, since the horses warned him about it. Garion watches Lelldorin bolt for one of the tents they’ve set up and has a moment of disappointment about his friend not staying to fight. At which point we should probably note that Lelldoin’s boast was not about being the best swordsman in Arendia, because Garion seems to have forgotten that. Garion does something sensible…

“Arm yourselves!” the big man roared, drawing his sword.
Garion grasped Aunt Pol’s sleeve and tried to pull her from the light.
“Stop that!” she snapped, jerking her sleeve free. Another arrow flied out of the foggy woods. Aunt Pol flicked her hand as if brushing away a fly and muttered a single word. The arrow bounced as if it had struck something solid and fell to the ground.

…and Polgara gets irritated at him for it. Yes, it is a good idea to try and get your people out of being easily visible against people shooting arrows at them, but Polgara probably thinks Garion is trying to protect her and she doesn’t need that. (And also happily make some amount of psychic noise to drop the arrow headed her way.)

As soon as the melee attackers get within range, Lelldorin reappears with his bow and quiver and starts pincushioning attackers swiftly, many of whom seem quite surprised to have sprouted feathers. Garion, of course, is ashamed to have doubted his friend’s courage. Barak and Hettar start laying about with abandon. Silk gets into the attack. The actually important thing about this battle is that when Garion tries to get his own sword, he’s grabbed from behind, bashed on the head, and hears “This is the one we want,” before falling unconscious. He won’t mention that phrase to anyone after he’s recovered, but that’s important to the reader that this is no ordinary robber ambush.

After Garion gets knocked out, the narrative fast-forwards to him already in Barak’s arms, coming back to the camp, a knot on his head from where he got hit, a concussion to go with it that’s bad enough that standing on his own is a bad idea, and the aftermath of the fight still around them. Lelldorin returns soon after Garion arrives, and talks about how there was a beast out there while he was trying to track the two who took Garion. So the implication here is that Barak went into Beast Mode again. And this time around, it’s Silk who has some choice words about Arendia’s system of government.

“Who were those men?” Garion asked.
“Robbers, most likely,” Silk surmised, putting away his dagger. “It’s one of the benefits of a sociey that holds men in serfdom. They get bored with being serfs and go out into the forest looking for excitement and profit.”
“You sound just like Garion,” Lelldorin objected. “Can’t you people understand that serfdom’s part of the natural order of things here? Our serfs couldn’t take care of themselves alone, so those of us in higher station accept the responsibility of caring for them.”
“Of course you do,” Silk agreed sarcastically. “They’re not so well-fed as your pigs nor as well-kenneled as your dogs, but you do care for them, don’t you?”
“That’ll do, Silk,” Aunt Pol said coolly. “Let’s not start bickering among ourselves.”

And then she examines Garion’s head, pronounces it not that bad, and then tells Garion he’s going to have to protect his head, lest all the banging soften his brains.

Still, if we weren’t already getting it thumped over our heads about how this should make any reader who knows the history of serfdom or of the slave trade uncomfortable, we even have the “they’re too stupid to be able to care for themselves, so we have to accept the responsibility of caring for them” argument. You know, the White Man’s Burden. Lelldorin may be a crack shot and a decent swordfighter, but he’s uncritically repeating some of the worst propaganda in favor of dehumanization. Yet again conforming to the stereotype of Arends being good fighters but less bright than a shadow on a moonless night.

Durnik asks if they should bury the attackers, which is seen as yet another one of those Sendarian Weidnesses, but eventually Barak says he’s tired of looking at the corpses and enlists Hettar’s help to drag them all over into a pile, which is probably as close as a burial as things will get. And also, Durnik is absolutely going to have nightmares tonight, because this is the first time he’s actually killed somebody.

“I killed one of those men, Garion,” the smith replied in a shaking voice. “I hit him in the face with my axe. He screamed, and his bood splashed all over me. Then he fell down and kicked on the ground with his heels until he died.”
“You didn’t have any choice, Durnik,” Garion told him. “They were trying to kill us.”
“I’ve never killed anyone before,” Durnik said, the tears now running down his face. “He kicked the ground for such a long time—such a terrribly long time.”
“Why don’t you go to bed, Garion?” Aunt Pol suggested firmly. Her eyes were on Durnik’s tear-streaked face.
Garion understood. “Good night, Durnik,” he said. He got up and started toward one of the tents. He glanced back once. Aunt Pol had seated herself on the log beside the smith and was speaking quietly to him with one of her arms comfortingly about his shoulders.

Which ends Chapter Four. Durnik had talked a big game about being able to do more than bash people to stun them or incapacitate them, but when he actually watched someone die messily in front of him, he found out he has no stomach for it at all. He’s a smith at heart, not a soldier, and he came along because he couldn’t let Polgara go unescorted. That night, he’s probably wishing he never left the farm. Will we see this affect Durnik in the future? Nobody knows.

On to Chapter Five, then. Where the first thing Garion sees, after trying to get some comfort from his Aunt in the middle of the night and finding her tent empty, is an old wolf and a brown owl out in the mist, but then the mist covers them for just a moment and then it’s not the wolf and the owl, but Wolf and Polgara. Garion chalks up such a vision to still being light headed from taking a thump to the head, but then hears Belgarath and Polgara talking about how they need to make better time to stop Zedar, and how if there are too many more delays, he might have to be more direct. Which Pol (and all of us) have been trying to tell him this entire time. Apparently, they were also looking for Murgos and came up empty. The robbers were sent by an Arend lookout, who was extremely well-briefed on their appearances, and who will be rewarded for his part in setting up the fiasco by getting his throat cut by his fellows. (So Polgara doesn’t have to go back and fuck him up herself, which draws a rebuke from Belgarath about how she fixes things that will fix themselves over time and changes things that don’t want to change.)

As it is, they break camp in the morning and travel on the Tolnedran highway until a group of Mimbrate knights stop them and demand to know their business. Lelldorin is told explicitly by Belgarath and Polgara to keep his feelings to himself and act like a loyalist when the knights are approaching them. Silk takes the lead, introducing himself as Radek of Boktor and spinning the cover story established at the beginning, explaining also that they were set upon by robbers last night in the hopes of getting the Mimbrate knights to move along quickly. The knights, however, want to question Lelldorin, since he’s an Asturian, about the whole matter, and to his credit, Lelldorin does what he’s told.

“This province of Asturian seethes with rebellion and brigandage,” the knight said sternly. “My men and I are sent to suppress such offenses. Come here, Asturian.”
Lelldorin’s nostrils flared, but he obediently came forward.
“I will require thy name of thee.”
“My name is Lelldorin, Sir Knight. How may I serve thee?”
“These robbers thy friends spoke of— were they commons or men of quality?”
“Serfs, my Lord,” Lelldorin replied, “ragged and uncouth. Doubtless fled from lawful submission to their masters to take up outlawry in the forest.”
“How’s may we expect duty and proper submission from serfs when nobles raise detestable rebellion against the crown?” the knight asserted.
[…Lelldorin lays it on a bit thick, but it seems to please the knight. Not enough that he still doesn’t decide he’s going to detain them all to verify the details of what they’ve said. Silk protests vigorously, but gets nowhere with thee knight until…]
In single file, resplendent in burnished breastplates, plumed helmets and crimson capes, a half a hundred Tolnedran legionnaires rode slowly along the flank of the armored knights. “What seems to be the problem here?” the legion commander, a lean, leather-faced man of forty or so, asked politely as he stopped not far from Silk’s horse.
“We do not require the assistance of the legions in this matter,” the knight said coldly. “Our orders are from Vo Mimbre. We are sent to help restore order in Asturia and we were questioning these travelers to that end.”
“I have a great respect for order, Sir Knight,” the Tolnedran replied, “but the highway is my responsibility.” He looked inquiringly at Silk.
“I am Radek of Boktor, Captain,” Silk told him, “a Drasnian merchant bound for Tol Holenth. I have documents, if you wish to see them.”
“Documents are easily forged,” the knight declared.
“So they are,” the Tolnedran agreed, “but to save time, I make it a practice to accept all documents at face value. A Drasnian merchant with goods in his packs has a legitimate reason to be on an Imperial Highway, Sir Knight. There’s no reason to detain him, is there?”
“We seek to stamp out banditry and rebellion,” the knight asserted hotly.
*Stamp away,” the captain said, “but off the highway, if you don’t mind. By treaty the Imperial Highway is Tolnedran territory. What you do when you’re fifty yards back in the trees is your affair; what happens on the road is mine. I’m sure no Mimbrate knight would want to humiliate his king by violating a solemn agreement between the Arendish crown and the Emperor of Tolnedra, would he?”

Thus chastised, the party is allowed to move on. Barak compliments the captain as being an exceptional Tolnedran (“I don’t think much of Tolnedrans ordinarily, but that one’s different.”) and they make as good of time as they can do as to put distance between themselves and the knights, just in case.

That said,

Cocowhat by depizan

What happened in the past that all the sovereign nations that the Imperial Highways run through agreed to treaties that said the major roads are the sovereign territory of the Empire, rather than of the nations that they are located in? (It does explain why there are legions and hostels and fortifications in someone else’s territory.) About the only way I can think of this working is if all of the places the highway runs through once were Tolnedran provinces (since Tolnedra is supposed to be fantasy Classical Rome) and, for whatever reason, the great Tolnedran empire broke apart into these kingdoms, but Tolnedra remained powerful enough to insist that these new kingdoms let them keep control of the roads on the threat of those new kingdoms becoming Tolnedran provinces again. Which, as best as I can tell, would engender a long-standing hated for Tolnedra and an unwillingness to use their roads or respect those treaties, once Tolnedra lacked the ability to police the entire highway and enforce the treaties.

All of these places have armies and fortifications and the possibility of an occupation happening at any time. Why haven’t they renegotiated, either by diplomacy or by force? Especially here in Arendia, where conflict seems to be ready to go at any time, and that will have the entire might of the kingdom behind it immediately?

Second, the Mimbrates’ opinion that the serfs will never learn to respect their betters when the nobles don’t tells me that the Mimbrates aren’t interested in cooperation and instead intend on suppression of the Asturians as their way of maintaining order. Even if “who started it?” will have both sides pointing at each other, it’s been going on long enough that it’s going to take a concerted effort to share power and do it seriously, or one or the other is going to be trees and ruins to history and the other will write that history to make sure that everyone knows who won and who was rebellious.

Third, the Tolnedran captain’s routine sounds like a well-rehearsed script, the sort of thing that happens when every day, on patrol, you come across some Mimbrates on the Highway harassing legitimate travelers and you have to get the knights gone before they scare off the travelers or make it seem like the Empire can’t protect its own roads. Don’t rise to the bait, don’t indulge the knights in their conspiracy thinking, state the treaty, get the travelers moving. There’s no tone information coming from the captain, but I imagine it as a mix of “ugh, these guys again,” and the attitude a customer service person learns to adopt when confronted by someone who broke the thing through their own lack of intelligence and now are demanding what you’re going to do to fix the problem they very clearly created. I wonder how many letters to the Crown he’s written as formal complaints and other letters he’s written to his supervisors back in Tolnedra about the situation he is in, please send more legions so we can just keep the Mimbrates off the road instead of having to catch them when they’re harassing others.

The plot progresses to a Tolnedran hostel, where the sight of having seen people die in very messy and insides-exposing way gets Garion to take a bath on his own without prompting, deciding that physical cleaning well allow him to brainbleach as well. Which means he takes off his protective amulet while bathing, and that’s going to have consequences because, of course, you’re not supposed to remove the amulet ever, even to bathe and sleep. And, naturally, this brief bathing period is enough for a hostile actor to do something to Garion and hide it from Polgara and Belgarath, who don’t notice the change at all. (Yes, I’m reading ahead, and yes, this is exactly as contrived as it sounds, because the villainous person has to be within a relative range of Garion, has to do something magical within that range, and has to get away without it being noticed. Even with Belgarath and Polgara theoretically now looking out for something like that, since it has happened once before already. And, this thing has to be able to defeat the protection the amulet provides when it gets put back on, as well. Which means that Grolim powers are either much better than our heroes have given them credit for, the protections and powers of the protagonists are much weaker than they claim, or the author couldn’t figure out how to make a convincing reason that this would work and decided that if they didn’t talk about it except when it was plot necessary, we wouldn’t notice how improbable this all actually is. (The easiest way might be to say that the Grolims have developed a silencer for the noise that magic makes when you use it, allowing them to do things that would otherwise be unmistakably noticed without detection. A really clever way of doing it would be to make the red gold the mechanism for it, such that all the red gold buzzing loudly as magic masks the more subtle things happening underneath undetectable unless you can filter the noise really well. It would even make it villains competent and somewhat frightening.))

After a delay of several days due to a horse getting an injury, they stay again at a different Lord’s house, where Lelldorin finally starts seeing the destruction and devastation the way Garion would like him to.

A half-dozen ragged beggars stood in the mud on the outskirts, their hands held out imploringly and their voices shrill. Their houses were nothing more than rude hovels oozing smoke from the pitiful fires within. Scrawny pigs rooted in the muddy streets, and the stench of the place was awful.
A funeral procession slogged through the mud toward the burial ground in the other side of the village. The corpse, carried on a board, was wrapped in a ragged brown blanket, and the richly robed and cowled priests of Chaldan, the Arendish God, chanted an age-old hymn that had much to do with war and vengeance, but little to do with comfort. The widow, a whimpering infant at her breast, followed the body, her face blank and her eyes dead.
[…the inn is no better…]
“Charming,” Silk said sardonically, pushing away his untouched bowl. “I’m a bit surprised at you, Lelldorin. Your passion for correcting wrongs seems to have overlooked this place. Might I suggest that your next crusade include a visit to the Lord of this demesne? His hanging seems long overdue.”
“I hadn’t realized it was so bad,” Lelldorin replied in a subdued voice. He looked around as if seeing certain things for the first time. A kind of sick horror began to show itself in his transparent face.

It appears that actually seeing the thing up close, rather than being able to abstract it away and not have to pay attention is making the gears turn in Lelldorin’s head. Which is good, but the equation now is whether it will stick in his head, or he’ll rationalize it away as this Lord being extra terrible (as Lelldorin mentioned his reputation to be before he saw this reality) and that everything is fine. I don’t have high hopes for Lelldorin to continue being able to see this for what it is, but we can extend him the grace of believing he can change.

The chapter closes out with Garion taking a walk, and while listening to a bit play a flute, an old familiar face shows itself.

At the edge of the forest beyond the field, a dark-robed and hooded man astride a black horse came out of the trees and started watching the village. There was something ominous about the dark figure, and something vaguely familiar as well. It seemed somehow to Garion that he should know who the rider was, but, though his mind groped for a name, it tantalizingly eluded him. He looked at the figure out the woods for a long time, noticing without even being aware of it that though the horse and rider stood in the full light of the asserting stun, there was no shadow behind them. Deep in his mind something tried to shriek at him, but, all bemused, he merely watched. He would not say anything to Aunt Pol or the others about the figure at the edge of the woods because there was nothing to say; as soon as he turned his back, he would forget.

So yes, despite having been broken of the Grolim geas in the last book, because he removed his amulet to bathe, Asharak is conveniently right there to mind whammy Garion again and do a better job this time. And has probably collected whatever information he wanted to from Garion so that he can continue to interfere with the progress of the quest. Nobody thought to install some psychic defenses in Garion in case Asharak tried again, or did a deep probe to make sure there weren’t any other control mechanisms, or basically made Garion forget about the amulet so he wouldn’t accidentally take it off? It’s not like Polgara had been a big champion of Garion’s autonomy up to this point. It would certainly be easier in the long run if she could just compel him to do the right thing for himself all the time and not know or remember she did it to him.

It feels neglectful, which is in character for Polgara, but we also were supposed to believe that the relationship had turned a corner and that she actually cared more about him now, instead of seeing him as prophecy baggage. So, I’m sure this will help increase the drama quotient and otherwise add tension to traveling through a land with someone who will be treated like he’s an insurrectionist, even before they find out he has an actual plan to engage in an insurrection. And with the possibility of Zedar getting the Orb he stole to Torak before he can be stopped, which is presumably a world-ending event.

More travels on the Imperial Highway next week.

Queen of Sorcery: Actual Plot?

Last time, Hettar finally arrived, Belgarath gave the name of the Apostate, Zedar (Belzedar), Belgarath explained a little more about how his brand of magic worked, with the supreme caveat that trying to use it to unmake someone or something rebounds immediately on the caster, so no insta-killing with magic by telling someone or something not to exist. (Still plenty of other creative ways to off someone with magic, though.) Good thing Garion learned that before he tried to exact revenge on someone with magic powers that he clearly has but hasn’t had any training on.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapter 3: Content Notes:

Chapter 3 starts with Silk unveiling a different disguise of himself, a merchant named Radek of Boktor, who will conveniently provide cover for the entire traveling party. In theory.

“Not a bad disguise,” Mister Wolf agreed. “One more Drasnian merchant on the Great West Road won’t attract any attention—whatever his name.”
“Please,” Silk objected in an injured tone. “The name’s very important. You hang the whole disguise on the name.”
“I don’t see any difference,” Barak asserted bluntly.
“There’s all the difference in the world. Surely you can see that Ambar’s a vagabond with very little regard for ethics, while Radek’s a man of substance whose word is good in all the commercial centers of the West. Besides, Radek’s always accompanied by servants.”
“Servants?” One of Aunt Pol’s eyebrows shot up.
“Just for the sake of the disguise,” Silk assured her quickly. “You, of course, could never be a servant, Lady Polgara.”
“Thank you.”
“No one would ever believe it. You’ll be my sister, instead, traveling with me to see the splendors of Tol Holenth.”
Your sister?”
“You could be my mother instead, if you prefer,” Silk suggested blandly, “making a religious pilgrimage to Mar Terrin to atone for a colorful past.”
Aunt Pol gazed steadily at the small man for a moment while he grinned impudently at her. “Someday your sense of humor’s going to get you into a great deal of trouble, Prince Kheldar.”
“I’m always in trouble, Lady Polgara. I wouldn’t know how to act if I weren’t.”

Silk divides up the others as to whose servants are whose, and is hurt when nobody wants to know why. Before they get underway, Durnik realizes he’s forgotten to put the fire out and does so, to Wolf’s exasperation. (And apparent lack of concern for all the trees that are part of these ruins.) As Barak is mounting his horse, Hettar chuckles because the horse apparently said something funny, and they’re finally underway.

Silk is clearly like this to everyone that he meets and interacts with, both convinced of his own cleverness and ready to tweak anyone who might have some amount of authority or power they could use against him. Given Polgara’s temper that’s been displayed so far, I’m surprised they don’t turn Silk into a newt and keep him in a cage until he’s needed for some other thing. Because he has, once again, bought them goods to accompany them on their journey, although this time it’s cloth, instead of turnips, so they don’t need a wagon as well as the horses that they have. That said, it seems pretty clear to me that the only reason Silk didn’t make Polgara one of the servants is because she objected and he knows that she would make his life miserable until he let he be something other than on the level of being the Duchess of Erat.

Garion realizes, after Lelldorin suggests they learn about disguise from Silk for the revenge quest, that the “too flighty” appearance disguises that “Lelldorin only seemed to forget things.” And that prospect makes him nervous, because Lelldorin has already proven himself a very bad companion for things that might require delicacy, discretion, or anything resembling finesse. And because the two of them have very different value systems. Garion sees a serf on the side of the road and remembers the conversation he heard earlier between the two serfs, so he interrogates Lelldorin about the system of government they’ve set up here in Arendia.

“Is it really necessary to keep them so poor?” he demanded of Lelldorin, unable to hold it in any longer.
“Who?” Lelldorin asked, looking around.
“That serf.”
Lelldorin glanced back over his shoulder at the ragged man.
“You didn’t even see him,” Garion accused.
Lelldorin shrugged. “There are so many.”
“And they all dress in rags and live on the edge of starvation.”
“Mimbrate taxes,” Lelldring replied as if that explained everything.
You seem to have always had enough to eat.”
“I’m not a serf, Garion,” Lelldorin answered patiently. “The poorest people always suffer the most. It’s the way the world is.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Garion retorted.
“You just don’t understand.”
“No. And I never will.”
“Naturally not,” Lelldorin said with infuriating complacency. “You’re not Arendish.”
Garion clenched his teeth to hold back the obvious reply.

I feel like this could be given more explanation or a longer internal mental state discussion than this gets. The narrative could help by having someone explain to Garion, or have Garion realize, now that he’s been through Cherek as well, just how weird his upbringing really was, with Sendaria’s general lack of tying people to their land, the shared prosperity and good wages available on Faldor’s farm, and Faldor’s clear disdain of gathering wealth and authority to himself to become a noble with serfs. And then the narrative could help make a moral judgment about whether Garion or Lelldorin is in the right about the systems in place. While we’ve seen plenty from Durnik about the social and moral values the narrative seems interested in promoting, there’s been significantly less about the economic and governmental values from most of the characters, other than Silk’s firm belief in mercantile capitalism above all things. Speaking of Silk, he has some advice for Garion about Lelldorin.

“How are you and your friend getting along?” Silk asked, falling in beside Garion.
“Fine, I suppose,” Garion replied, not quite sure how the rat-faced little man intended the question. “It seems to be a little hard to explain things to him, though.”
“That’s only natural,” Silk observed. “He’s an Arend, after all.”
Garion quickly came to Lelldorin’s defense. “He’s honest and very brave.”
“They all are. That’s part of the problem.”
“I like him,” Garion asserted.
“So do I, Garion, but that doesn’t keep me from realizing the truth about him.”
“If you’re trying to say something, why don’t you just go ahead and say it?”
“All right, I will. Don’t let friendship get the better of your good sense. Arendia’s a very dangerous place, and Arends tend to blunder into disasters quite regularly. Don’t let your exuberant young companion drag you into something that’s none of your business.” Silk’s look was direct, and Garion realized that the little man was quite serious.
“I’ll be careful,” he proclaimed.
“I knew I could count on you,” Silk said gravely.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Would I do that, Garion?” Silk asked mockingly. Then he laughed and the rode on together through the gloomy afternoon.

I recognize there’s prophecy involved with all of this, and of course the one that actually had specifics is going to be the one that has to be right on all the particulars, but I’m with all the people who think it’s a bad idea to get involved in this kind of conflict. I’m still of the opinion that a war like this, for as long as it has gone on, is way more likely to have sparked several revolts along the way, both against the Mimbrates who have set up a government designed to make the Asturians permanently inferior, despite Brand’s pretty clear expectations that the two people would learn to get along, and against the Asturians, who appear to insist that they bankrupt their own coffers and kill their own people to try and get revenge against the Mimbrates. All the other kingdoms around them seem to go “Eh, they’re Arends, they do this all the time, because they’re not very bright at all,” about all of this, rather than “when they’re done with the latest cycle of trying to kill each other, we’ll pop in and subjugate them both into a client state.” Or if someone suggested it as a good way of fixing the problem permanently, there was a handy story about the time someone tried, and it turned out really poorly for the invaders, because the Arends may be less intelligent than the average rock, but if you give them something to fight together, they’re good enough to make the legions run away. Of course, if Garion suggested that perhaps they could do something about the condition of the serfs, I’m pretty sure everyone except Durnik would look at Garion uncomprehendingly and wonder what he was on about.

The plot continues with the party stopping for the night at one of Lelldorin’s relatives. Garion notes the house is not aesthetically pleasing, and Silk points out it’s built to be defensible, not pretty, because it’s a country where “neighborhood disputes sometimes get out of hand.” Silk advises Garion not to make sudden moves inside, because there will likely be archers looking for sudden moves, a “quaint custom of the region.” After Belgarath reintroduces himself to the relative, Reldegen, it lightens the mood significantly, and Belgarath gets to razz Reldegen about being a hothead in his youth and be surprised that he’s got actual books in his house. After introductions are done more completely, we get a sign of conflict in the house.

“You’re an idiot, Berentain!” the first, a dark-haired youth in a scarlet doublet, snapped.
“It may please thee to think so,” Torasin, the second, a stout young man with pale, curly hair and wearing a green and yellow striped tunic, replied, “but whether it please thee it not, Asturia’s future is in Mimbrate hands. Thy rancorous denouncements and sulfurous rhetoric shall not alter that fact.”
“Don’t thee or thou me, Berentain,” the dark-haired one sneered. “Your imitation Mimbrate courtesy turns my stomach.”
“Gentlemen, that’s enough!” Count Reldegen said sharply, rapping his cage on the stone floor. “If you two are going to insist on discussing politics, I’ll have you separated— forcibly, if necessary.”
The two young men scowled at each other and then stalked off to the opposite sides of the room. “My son, Torasin,” the count admitted apologetically, indicating the dark-haired youth, “and his cousin Berentain, the son of my late wife’s brother. They’ve been wrangling like this for two weeks now. I had to take their swords away from them the day after Berentain arrived.”
“Political discussion is good for the blood, my Lord,” Silk observed, “especially in the winter. The heat keeps the veins from clogging up.”
The count chuckled at the little man’s remark.

My eyes are going to roll so hard out of my head. Some of it because Silk continues to take serious things very lightly in his “I’m always in trouble” persona. Even if their Arend host is also doing the same. Mostly, though, because it’s a very common thing for people of this era to think that thee/thou/thine are extremely formal and stiff modes of addresses, and people who speak that way are noses-in-the-air kinds of people. They’re not. They are the casual address form that survived in other languages but disappeared from English because English-speaking societies applied huge penalties to people who were improperly casual with others, and so out of an abundance of caution, the casual form of address basically dropped from English. (If you know people who are part of the Society of Friends who use that form of address, the informality implied is deliberate. It’s also why certain people talk about having an I-Thou relationship with the deity, which is supposed to be more intimate and familiar, rather than a more formal I-You relationship.)

The next thing to happen is Polgara asking where the bath is.

Tell me, my Lord,” Aunt Pol said, “do you by chance have a bathtub in your house?”
“Bathing in winter is dangerous, Lady Polgara,” the count warned her.
“My Lord,” she stated gravely, “I’ve been bathing winter or summer for more years than you could possibly imagine.”
“Let her bathe, Reldegen,” Mister Wolf urged. “Her temper deteriorates quite quickly when she things she’s getting dirty.”
“A bath wouldn’t hurt you either, Old Wolf,” Aunt Pol retorted tartly. “You’re starting to get a bit strong from the downwind side.”
Mister Wolf looked a bit injured.

Wimmins, amirite? With their insistence on bathing and other people doing the same. Even though it’s dangerous to bathe in the winter, because you might catch something.

It’s also expensive to heat water to bathe, and to keep it properly hot for her to do so, since most pastiches of Latin Christendom assume the water is heated and then has to be hauled to the tub. So some amount of fuel has to be consumed for this, unless, of course, Polgara’s going to disturb some reality around her to make sure that the water is heated to her liking. And in this particular person’s house, unlike many other places, she isn’t going to be able to use Garion as her servant to heat and fetch the water. Even if she might make all of them take a bath to get the smell of the road and the horses off of them. So, after dinner, Pol goes off to get a bath and the men stay in their wine cups, and then Lelldorin and Garion get shown to their rooms by Torasin, who has much to say about Berentain’s mannerisms, which Torasin believes is Berentain trying to suck up so he can get some land and a title. So he can impress a girl and get a relationship with her, since she doesn’t want anything to do with someone who has neither land nor title. Lelldorin says it’s foolish, because there are already too many Mimbrate sycophants that the governor of the area would never give land to an Asturian.

And then Lelldorin once again proves that he should never be part of any plot, ever, by telling Torasin to go and kill Korodullin, the king, in his absence, since he’s going to be engaged with Belgarath and company. To compound the error, even after Torasin says they’re not exactly alone and Garion explicitly says he doesn’t want to know what’s happening, Lelldorin tells him the whole thing, because he trusts Garion with this information.

“Lelldorin, please,” Garion protested, “I’m not an Asturian—I’m not even an Arend. I don’t want to know what you’re planning.”
“But you will know, Garion, as proof of my trust in you,” Lelldorin declared. “Next summer, when Korodullin journeys to the ruined city of Vo Astur to hold court there for the six weeks that maintain the fiction of Arendish unity, we’re going to ambush him on the highway.”
“Lelldorin!” Torasin gasped, his face turning white.
But Lelldorin was already plunging on. “It won’t be just a simple ambush, Garion. We’re going to ambush him in the uniforms of Tolnedran legionnaires and cut him down with Tolnedran swords. Out attack will force Mimbre to declare war on the Tolnedran Empire, and Tolnedra will crush Mimbre like an eggshell. Mimbre will be destroyed, and Asturia will be free!”
“Nachak will have you killed for this, Lelldorin,” Torasin cried. “We’ve all been sworn to secrecy on a blood oath.”
“Tell the Murgo that I spit on his oath,” Lelldoring said hotly. “What need have Asturian patriots for a Murgo henchman?”

Naturally. Can’t have a good plot spring into existence without it turning out that there’s a Murgo behind it. I think we’re supposed to have suspected that there was outside interference because Arends aren’t bright enough to come up with this kind of false flag operation on their own.

Also, can I point out that this is a stupid plan? Because this plan doesn’t pass the six year-old test. (The question the six year-old asks is, “What if they don’t fall for it?”) Because there might be people who go “Nope. That’s the Tolnedran uniform from two centuries ago, and they haven’t carried a gladius that looks like that in just as long.” Or others who might say “Why would Tolnedra try to assassinate the king? They have enough legions and hostels in the area that they could just invade if they wanted to.” Or, perhaps even most likely, “these people tried to kill the king, and they succeeded, but oh, yeah, we got one of the conspirators and look, they’re Arends, not Tolnedrans. This is a false flag operation,” and then the Mimbrates have an excuse to merrily go along exterminating as many Asturians as they feel like, because you never know where the next plot will come from. This plot has the highest chance of success if nobody gets seen well enough to be recognized, nobody gets killed but the target, and nobody talks. Which Lelldorin has already done twice. It would be a far better plan for a single bowman (or only a few) to put that legendary longbow ability they have to good use and try to make a pincushion out of Kurodullin instead. You still get the dead king and you get the advantage of being really far away from the guards when they start looking for you.

Nachak has terrible taste in conspirators. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is only one of several schemes Nachak is currently running, so that when Arends inevitably behave like Arends, he can just exit from unsuccessful plans. Or that his actual scheme is to spread more red gold around and buy himself some souls.

“He’s providing us with gold, you blockhead!” Torasin raged, almost beside himself. “We need his good red gold to buy the uniforms, the swords, and to strengthen the backbones of some of our weaker friends.”
“I don’t need weaklings with me,” Lelldorin said immensely. “A patriot does what he does for love of his country—not for Angarak gold.”
Garion’s mind was moving quickly now. His moment of stunned amazement had passed. “There was a man in Cherek,” he recalled. “The Earl of Jarvik. He also took Murgo gold and plotted to kill a king.”
Thw two stared at him blankly.
“Something happens to a country when you kill its king,” Garion explained. “No matter how bad the king is or how good the people are who kill him, the country falls apart for a while. Everything is confused, and there’s nobody to point the country in any one direction. Then, if you start a war between that country and another one at the same time, you add just that much more confusion. I think that if I were a Murgo, that’s exactly the kind of confusion I’d want to see in all the kingdoms of the West.”
Garion listened o his own voice almost in amazement. There was a dry, dispassionate quality in it that he instantly recognized. From the time of his earliest memories that voice had always been there—inside his mind—occupying some quiet, hidden corner, telling him when he was wrong or foolish. But that voice had never actively interfered before in his dealings with other people. Now, however, it spoke directly to these two young men, patiently explaining.
“Angarak gold isn’t what it seems to be,” he went on. “There’s a kind of power in it that corrupts you. Maybe that’s why it’s the color of blood. I’d think about that before I accepted any more red gold from this Murgo Nachak. Why do you suppose he’s giving you gold and helping you with this ploy of yours? He’s not an Asturian, so patriotism couldn’t have anything to do with it, could it? I’d think about that, too.”
Lelldorin and his cousin looked suddenly troubled.
“I’m not going to say anything about this to anybody,” Garion said. “You told me about it in confidence, and I really wasn’t supposed to hear about it anyway. But remember that there’s a lot more going on in the world right now than what’s happening here in Arendia. Now I think I’d like to get some sleep. If you’ll show me where my bed is, I’ll leave you to talk things over all night, if you’d like.” All in all, Garion though he’d handled the whole thing rather well. He’d planted a few doubts at the very least. He knew Arends well enough by now to realize that it probably wouldn’t be enough to turn these two around, but it was a start.

And that ends chapter 3, with Garion completely discarding his “I like Lelldorin” attitude in favor of “these two Arends are pretty stupid, but at least I got them started on a path away from their plan.” That’s probably the dry voice talking, if anything, but also, it appears that the dry voice has taken a much more active role with Garion, no longer content to simply snark from the sidelines. I suppose this is one of those “and if someone is joining the series in this book, we need to get them up to speed on the idea that red gold is soul-corrupting,” and a probably literal deus ex Garion was apparently the easiest way to achieve this.

It still makes me wonder why Angaraks aren’t shot on sight, though. Since now there’s been enough said that a Murgo is now a co-conspirator in a plot to assassinate the Mimbrate king, I feel like that should be enough for any civil authority concerned with national security (or their own security) to haul in Nachak, question him, and then when they’re done getting information out of him, kill Nachak, ban Murgos of all sorts, possibly make an example out of Lelldorin and his group by making them gong farmers for the rest of their lives, and then systematically engage in a genocidal revenge campaign against the Angarak kingdoms because that’s what Arends do. (Regardless of whether it’s a smart idea or not.) It might be the opposite of the quiet that Belgarath wants so he can get the Orb back fom Zedar, but given how good Lelldorin is about subtlety, if that’s an Arendish trait, Belgarath might just have to accelerate his plans if he knows there will be Arends going to war soon regardless of what he actually wants. It could give some real stakes to this otherwise still fairly slow-paced adventure going on here.

Also, because this is the first time that the king of Arendia’s name has been mentioned, the author really has a thing for all the successors and descendants of a particular king or queen or steward to take the same name as their ancestor. All the Rivan warders are named Brand. I’ll bet all the kings of Arendia have been named Korodullin and all the queens Mayaserana, regardless of what their names were before, and whether or not the king is a Mimbrate and the queen is an Asturian or not, because the symbolism of a united kingdom is important to the ruling faction, whichever faction that might be. It’s already been stated that all the queens of Nyissa are named Salmissra. We’re haven’t heard a lot about the Emperor of Tolnedra, but I expect them to follow suit with having similar names as well. Which, yeah, there are several dynastic lines in hereditary nobility that have taken the same name over time, and once elected to the post, the Bishop of Rome takes a name that is one of the saints of the Catholic Church, some of which have been much more popular than others, but they tend not to do it in succession. If these have been the thing for thousands of years, then we’ve got be on Korodullin XXXVII, or something, which can’t make it easy for someone to remember their history particularly well. (That said, the only time Silk claimed to be having trouble was when he was needling someone about the ignominious beginnings of the kings of Sendaria, so maybe it’s very easy to distinguish between Ran Borune IV and Ran Borune XIV.) It’s an economical plot device to not have to come up with all that many names, and there might even be Watsonian justifications for all of it, but it still comes across as a bit suspicious that it’s so widespread across the entire world.

More of the unexciting trek across Arendia, and everyone basically telegraphing to Garion that it’s as bad idea to get involved in the internal politics of Arends, even as the Arends themselves refuse to take no for an answer, next week.

Queen of Sorcery: No More Waiting

Last week’s prologue proved nobody should trust Torak One-Eye to lead an army and let Garion do something that should have rightly gotten him killed, excepting that the person he did it to was exactly a person that was being waited for, so Garion didn’t get summarily killed for it. The party continues their wait for Hettar and his horses in…

Queen of Sorcery, Chapter 2: Content Notes:

So, we start the chapter confirming that the prejudice that everyone has about Arends is pretty well correct.

Lelldorin of Wildantor was eighteen years old, although his ingenuous nature made him seem more boyish. No emotion touched him that did not instantly register in his expression, and sincerity shone in his face like a beacon. He was impulsive, extravagant in his declarations, and probably, Garion reluctantly concluded, not overly bright. It was impossible not to like him, however.

I’m pretty sure it’s very possible not to like him, but Garion, as we’ll see, has been traveling too long in the company of people much older than him and doesn’t want to bork the possibility of making a friend near his own age.

Lelldorin boasts that Asturians are the finest bowmen and hunters everywhere and that it is a point of pride in his household that neither beef nor mutton are served at the table. Which I had to think about as to why that was a boast, but I suppose it’s the thought that domesticating animals and using them for food sources just isn’t sufficiently manly for Asturians. (Frankly, I would have expected it to be a thing in Cherek rather than here, based on the relative characterizations at this point.) Garion relates the story of how he nearly got killed by the boar in Cherek, and is secretly pleased that the story goes over as intended with Lelldorin. Lelldorin then gives us some necessary backstory while he fully incriminates himself as being part of a plot against the current king.

“Hardly a day goes by that some Mimbrate’s horse doesn’t come home riderless.”
Garion was shocked at that.
Some men think that there are too many Mimbrates in Asturia,” Lelldorin explained with heavy emphasis.
“I thought that the Arendish civil war was over.”
“There are many who don’t believe that. There are many who believe that the war will continue until Asturia is free of the Mimbrate crown.” Lelldorin’s tone left no question as to where he stood on the matter.
“Wasn’t the country unified after the Battle of Vo Mimbre?” Garion objected.
“Unified? How could anybody believe that?” Asturia is treated like a subject province. The king’s court is at Vo Mimbre; every governor, every tax collector, every bailiff, every high sheriff in the kingdom is a Mimbrate. There’s not a single Asturian in a position of authority anywhere in Arendia. The Mimbrates even refuse to recognize our titles. My father, whose line extends back a thousand years, is called landowner. A Mimbrate would sooner bite out his tongue than call him Baron.” Lelldorin’s face had gone white with suppressed indignation.
“I didn’t know that,” Garion said carefully, not sure how to handle the young man’s feelings.
“Asturia’s humiliation is almost at an end, however,” Lelldorin declared fervently. “There are some men in Asturia for whom patriotism is not dead, and the time is not far off when those men will hunt royal game.” He emphasized his statement by snapping an arrow at a distant tree.
That confirmed the worst of Garion’s fears. Lelldorin was a bit too familiar with the details to not be involved in this plot.
As if he had realized himself that he had gone too far, Lelldorin stared at Garion with consternation. “I’m a fool,” he blurted with a guilty look around him. “I’ve never learned to control my tongue. Please forget what I just said, Garion. I know you’re my friend, and I know you won’t betray what I said.”
That was one thing Garion had feared. With that single statement, Lelldorin had effectively sealed his lips. He knew that Mister Wolf should be warned that some wild scheme was afoot, but Lelldorin’s declaration of friendship and trust had made it impossible for him to speak. He wanted to grind his teeth with frustration as he stared full in the face of a major moral dilemma.

Except, of course, that’s not actually a major moral dilemma to someone who has been taught well about morals and ethics. Since Garion hasn’t, and because Polgara has deliberately pruned away any friendships Garion might have made, the question of “do I betray my friend who plans on participating in an assassination to people who will stop him or do I preserve the friendship and risk destabilizing an entire country” is harder for him than it should be, instead of having already had some lower-stakes version of this dilemma to work through with others and determine where his own personal line is with regard to how serious a fuckup it has to be before he will break confidence and tell someone about it.

Also, if Lelldorin hasn’t learned how to keep a secret, what the fuck is he doing in a conspiracy? That’s the kind of thing where they tell Lelldorin all sorts of fantastical things that aren’t the real plan, because they know he won’t be able to keep them secret, and so instead he just spreads misinformation about the terror attacks and assassination attempts that will be upcoming. Or they keep giving him generalities without real specifics and he lives in hope that someone will actually do something at some point.

I’m pretty sure that Lelldorin’s claim about the lack of Asturian representation in government could be fact-checked in some manner, probably through some of the other characters in the party, because if it is as true as Lelldorin claims it to be, then what Brand in the past was hoping for never came to pass, or there has been a significant number of years of work done by the Mimbrates to systematically purge the Asturians from any power sharing agreements or they made promises of bipartisanship that they had no intention of sticking to, but would wave in the faces of the Asturians whenever they pointed out that the Mimbrates were clearly acting in a power-grabbing manner and not sticking to those agreements and promises. Or the Mimbrates interpreted having their king being married to the Asturian queen as sign of their victory and proof of their divine right to rule, so they immediately set to subjugating and suppressing the Asturians. Or any number of plausible situations where something that was supposed to stop the war and bring peace through forced marriage was instead responsible for the continuation of the war on both sides, just not in an open conflict sort of way. And, presumably, the continuation of hostilities has made it suck extra for all the peasants and serfs who are caught up in it and don’t have the opportunity to escape the warzone or otherwise disobey what they’re being told to do.

I’m just saying that looking at this particular political situation in the current era of the United States, where one of the nominal two parties has thrown off any pretense of wanting to govern with their opposition and is instead moving in the direction of as authoritarian a stance as they can make and naked power grabs that violate precedent, norms, and the laws themselves, that are specifically designed to make it difficult to impossible for their opposition to ever be elected to power, and sneer off any objections with “yeah, well, what are you gonna do about it?” at a party they don’t believe has enough spine to try and stop them by adopting their own tactics against them, well, I can totally see why the Asturians are waging a domestic terrorism campaign against their occupiers. I also would fully expect there to be a peasant revolt almost constantly in progress against everybody noble because they’re the ones suffering the most, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a handshake agreement among all of the nobles that they’ll always act in the interest of keeping the peasants down first and then try to kill each other later.

Garion describes his upbringing to Lelldorin, where we learn that Sendaria is a very strange place compared to everywhere else.

“Is this Faldor a nobleman?”
“Faldor?” Garion laughed. “No, Faldor’s as common as old shoes. He’s just a farmer—decent, honest, good-hearted. I miss him.”
“A commoner, then,” Lelldorin said, seeming ready to dismiss Faldor as a man of no consequence.
“Rank doesn’t mean very much in Sendaria,” Garion told him rather pointedly. “What a man does is more important than what he is.” He made a wry face. “I was a scullery boy. It’s not very pleasant, but somebody’s got to do it, I suppose.”
“Not a serf, certainly?” Lelldorin sounded shocked.
“There aren’t any serfs in Sendaria.”
“No serfs?” The young Arend stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“No,” Garion said firmly. “We’ve never found it necessary to have serfs.”
Lelldorin’s expression clearly showed that he was baffled by the notion. Garion remembered the voices that had come to him out of the fog the day before, but he resisted the urge to say something about serfdom. Lelldorin would never understand, and the two of them were very close to friendship. Garion felt that he needed a friend just now and he didn’t want to spoil things by saying something that would offend this likeable young man.

Head. Desk.

Entirely foreseeable, of course, because Garion is a teenager and teenagers are looking for allies against the cruel world out there. Also because Polgara never let Garion have any friendships, so he wouldn’t be able to tell a healthy friendship from an unhealthy one. And he doesn’t have a base of friends already that he can rely on to be there for him if he decides he’s not actually interested in being friends with Lelldorin, since Lelldorin is the kind of person who joins assassination plots, can’t keep secrets, and has an intrinsic belief that some people are just inferior and deserve to be tied to their land without the opportunity to do anything else with their lives. (This, we note, without any overt Church telling those serfs that their lot in life has been ordained by a god and not to question it or to try and strive for something better, because that angers the god and the god’s representatives on the planet.) It’s already an unhealthy and toxic friendship, because Lelldorin is asking Garion to not rat out his assassination conspiracy to anyone, because of their friendship, when the right and moral thing, at least according to those Sendarian values, would be to turn him in tout de suite and find someone who can do their important mission without being embroiled in trying to kill the king of the country.

That Sendaria has a king, but apparently hasn’t really done a lot of building out a court or a nobility or implemented serfdom and restrictions on the freedoms of citizens to prevent their free movement feels more and more like everyone else thinks Sendars are capital-W Weird for it. It certainly seems that most of the other characters think that any custom of Sendaria is similarly Weird. Whether in contempt, as Silk does, or bafflement, like Barak and Lelldorin do, everyone else is probably slightly marveling at Durnik and how he’s handling everything. Also, the nearly democratic no-serfs-here-no-siree Sendaria is very USian Midwest indeed (and equally as ignorant of history that most education in the US gets).

After Garion tells Lelldorin about the death of his parents, Lelldorin swears that they’ll go hunt the killer together and execute him, which makes Garion mentally facepalm, as well as be glad that he has such a friend, before contenting himself with the thought that Lelldorin probably makes and forgets those kinds of promises all the time. After that, Hettar arrives and we can finally get some exposition that doesn’t require foolhardiness. Lelldorin gets confused to Hettar’s explanation as to why the horses won’t run off (“I asked them not to”) but he doesn’t press the issue, and when Hettar talks about sending people to reach the Goirim of the Ulgos, Lelldorin points out there are people-eating creatures in that space that the Algars are supposed to be afraid of. (“They stay in their lairs in the wintertime. Besides, they’re seldom brave enough to attack a full troop of mounted men.”) Hettar then says that southern Sendaria is crawling with Murgos. At which everyone is surprised that Hettar only killed two of them on the way here.

“I think it’s time for some plain talk,” Mister Wolf said, brushing crumbs off the front of his tunic. “Most of you have some notion of what we’re doing, but I don’t want anybody blundering into something by accident. We’re after a man named Zedar. He used to be one of my Master’s disciples—then he went over to Torak. Early last fall he somehow slipped into the throne room at Riva and stole the Orb of Aldur. We’re going to chase him down and get it back.”
“Isn’t he a sorcerer too?” Barak asked, tugging absently at a thick red braid.
“That’s not the term we use,” Wolf replied, “but yes, he does have a certain amount of that kind of power. We all did—me, Beltira and Belkira, Belzedar—all the rest of us. That’s one of the things I wanted to warn you about.”
“You all seem to have the same sort of names, Silk noticed.
“Our Master changed our names when he took us as disciples. It was a simple change, but it meant a great deal to us.”
“Wouldn’t that mean that your original name was Garath?” Silk asked, his ferret eyes narrowing shrewdly.
Mister Wolf looked startled and then laughed. “I haven’t heard that name for thousands of years. I’ve been Belgarath for so long that I’d almost completely forgotten Garath. It’s probably just as well. Garath was a troublesome boy—a thief and a liar among other things.”
“Some things never change,” Aunt Pol observed.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Wolf admitted blandly.

I would also think that it has a certain ability to be passed down through the generations. That could be what Polgara is observing as much as that the change in name doesn’t seem to have changed Belgarath much. Because Garion has all of those talents and more, despite Polgara trying very hard to stamp them out of him.

And we get a good discussion about the limitations of the magic that Belgarath and Polgara can employ.

“This Zedar’s caused a lot of trouble,” Barak rumbled. “You should have dealt with him a long time ago.”
“Possibly,” Wolf admitted.
“Why don’t you just wave your hand and make him disappear?” Barak suggested, making a sort of gesture with his thick fingers.
Wolf shook his head. “I can’t. Not even the Gods can do that.”
“We’ve got some big problems, then,” Silk said with a frown. “Every Murgo from here to Rak Goska’s going to try and stop us from catching Zedar.”
“Not necessarily,” Wolf disagreed. “Zedar’s got the Orb, but Ctuchik commands the Grolims.”
“Ctuchik?” Lelldorin asked.
“The Grolim High Priest. He and Zedar hate each other. I think we can count on him to try and keep Zedar from getting to Torak with the Orb.”
Barak shrugged. “What difference does it make? You and Polgara can use magic if we run into anything difficult, can’t you?”
“There are limitations on that sort of thing,” Wolf said a bit evasively.
“I don’t understand,” Barak said, frowning.
Mister Wolf took a deep breath. “All right. As long as it’s come up, let’s go into that, too. Sorcery—if that’s what you want to call it—is a disruption of the natural order of things. Sometimes it has certain unexpected effects, so you have to be very careful about what you do with it. Not only that, it makes—” He frowned. “—Let’s call it a sort of noise. That’s not exactly what it is, but it serves well enough to explain. Others with the same abilities can hear that noise. Once Polgara and I start changing things, every Grolim in the West is going to know exactly where we are and what we’re doing. They’ll keep piling things in front of us until we’re exhausted.”
“It takes almost as much energy to do things that way as it does to do them with your arms and back.” Aunt Pol explained. “It’s very tiring.” She sat beside the fire, carefully mending a small tear in one of Garion’s tunics.
“I didn’t know that,” Barak admitted.
“Not many people do.”
“If we have to, Pol and I can take certain steps,” Wolf went on, “but we can’t keep it up forever, and we can’t simply make things vanish. I’m sure you can see why.”
“Oh, of course,” Silk professed, though his tone indicated that he did not.
“Everything that exists depends on everything else,” Aunt Pol explained quietly. “If you were to unmake one thing, it’s altogether possible that everything would vanish.”
The fire popped, and Garion jumped slightly. The vaulted chamber seemed suddenly dark, and shadows lurked in the corners.
“That can’t happen, of course,” Wolf told them. “When you try to unmake something, your will simply recoils on you. If you say ‘Be not,’ then you are the one who vanishes. That’s why we’re very careful about what we say.”

I actually like this set of restrictions on the use of magic, and I suppose this coming in this book is an artifact of the original trilogy getting stretched into a quintet, because this would have been great in the last book so that we didn’t spend all of that time wondering why there wasn’t more sorcery being used. And that helps distinguish this particular form of magic from any other form that might also be in existence. “It’s exhausting and it draws the attention of the people we don’t want to pay attention to us” is a really good reason as to why things keep getting done the manual way. And “trying to unmake things is straight-up forbidden by the gods and only rebounds on the caster” also deals with the problem of using magic to just get rid of anything in your way.

I also wonder whether the thing that Asharak did to Garion also had a residual hum associated with it, like the sound of a CRT left on without any signal being sent to it. And if that were the case, I wonder if that hum might have contributed to Polgara’s continued aggravation, and that she misattributed the hum to Garion’s clear sorcerous abilities thrumming underneath the surface, rather than the control spell. It would make a very neat explanation as to why it wasn’t discovered until much later. All the same, I also wonder about the noise that was generated when Polgara took away Martje’s gift of prophecy. That, I would have assumed, would have been very loud. And, actually, another one of those distraction techniques might be to gather someone who can do magic on a similar wavelength as these and have them go about noisily performing miracles so that some of the smaller stuff gets drowned out.

The chapter closes out with Garion asking Silk if everything he’s heard is actually true, which seems like a bad question to ask him. But Silk gives the best response to it (act like it is until you know better for sure, because screwing it up carries high costs), so we’ll move on to Chapter Three next week all the same.