"'Not especially good?'" Polgara said. "I was there to prepare him for war, not coddle him.

"My Lady," Mandorallen said, "His Majesty was not prepared for war when we— Never mind."

Relg and Taiba had left for Maragor that morning. The other companions of the quest waited for Garion in the Great Hall. They fidgeted and avoided looking at Polgara. Adara stood next to Hettar. Ce'Nedra stood at her side. Garion entered with the throne at his back, fresh from a bath and wearing a clean doublet. Ce'Nedra walked toward him.

"My lord husband," she began.

Garion hugged her close. "I'm very sorry, Ce'Nedra. I didn't know I was hurting you. I won't do it again."

Ce'Nedra hugged him back and said, "I'm sorry I was mean to you. Since I met you."

He stepped back. "Adara has explained your side of it. I look forward to... getting to know you."

Ce'Nedra nodded and tried not to cry. She returned to Adara's side.

Mandorallen said, "Majesty, Prince Kheldar tells us thou hast not deigned to call us friends. I am pained by thy revelation, though I admit it is not without just cause." The others murmured agreement. "We regretted daily that we could not tell thee of thy true role. Had thee known, thou might view us more favorably now." More agreement followed.

Garion shrugged. "I had known since Arendia."

The companions looked at each other as if confirming the words.

"Arendia?" Silk said.

Garion said, "I thought about it since I was a kid. I knew the legends. I had the spot on my hand. Then, Anheg asked to look at it. The rest of you confirmed it when you kept me with you after Arendia. You could have sent me back to Faldor's at that point. You didn't, so you must have needed me. I was the only one in the group with the magic spot on my hand." He paused while they took it in. "Seriously, no one drags a random farm boy half way around the world in search of the most powerful artifact in existence 'just because.' Who couldn't figure that out?"

Silk sighed in frustration. "We were told you were sensitive and moody."

Barak said, "And not terribly bright."

Hettar said, "We were told not to tell you for your own good."

Mandorallen said, "Thou might succumb to arrogance or attempt to flee."

Lelldorin said, "What did Garion know?"

"But Garion," Barak said. "That doesn't prevent friendship. We protected you. We trained you. We did our best to prepare you for Kal Torak."

"Aye, Barak," Mandorallen said. "Thou hast named the answer. We asked a sixteen-year-old boy to fight a god of death with barely six months of training. Garion was the fatted calf and knew the reason for every morsel we fed him. I am amazed he tolerated us at all."

"I didn't hate you," Garion said and glared at Polgara. "We were saving the world. Everyone had a role. Barak was the bear guy. Silk was the thief guy. Belgarath was the asshole guy. I was the spot-on-the-hand guy."

Belgarath said, "I was the what?"

Lelldorin said to Garion, "Did you know all that time that you were the Child of Light?"

"He'll catch up eventually," Silk said.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Belgarath asked.

"I knew you were trying to keep it from me," Garion said. "It helped hide what I was. If you treated me like a farm boy, people would see me as a farm boy. Besides..." He looked away. "I was in no hurry to tell Ce'Nedra."

"I knew it," Ce'Nedra said. "You're going to pay for that, Garion."

Garion laughed and said, "Yes, I probably will."

Half-a-dozen jaws dropped, including Ce'Nedra's. Adara nudged her and gave her a wink.

"What?" Garion asked.

Silk said, "You're not known for laughter."

"Oh," Garion said. "I had a lot on my mind."

"Arendia," Belgarath said. "I should have seen it, but I hadn't been a grandfather for three millennia. I was enjoying it." He shook his head. "We should have trusted you. I'm sorry."

Garion nodded.

"Now," Belgarath said. "What's this about your Aunt Pol?"

Garion's expression turned instantly to rage. "That bitch is not my aunt! She's not even an ancestor! She's an off-shoot, and I want nothing to do with her!"

Polgara said, "We've gone over this before, stupid boy. I gave up everything for you. I gave up my sister for you. I lived in squalor for you. You owe me for all of it!"

"BULLSHIT!" Garion screamed. Behind him, the Orb flared to life. "You did NOTHING for me!"

The air around Polgara crackled audibly, and the companions took a step back.

"Garion," Durnik said.

Polgara said, "My life, my three thousand years—"

"Was for you!" Garion yelled. "You knew, if I lost, you would be the bride of Torak. You did everything to save yourself from that. I was nothing but a slab of meat to you. If you could have lopped off my hand and used it yourself, you would have. You hated me from the day I was born!"

The Orb flared again, and dark patches crossed its surface.

"Garion," Belgarath said. "Maybe you should calm down."

"Maybe you should be afraid," Garion snarled. "I know what it's doing. I've been able to feel it since I first touched it. I can command it from anywhere in the castle."

"I've had enough of this temper tantrum," Polgara said.

"And I've had enough of your shit!" Garion said.

A wave of pressure pushed back everyone but Garion.

"You hated me because of Riva Iron-grip," Garion continued.

"Don't," Belgarath said.

Polgara went rigid with rage.

"You never lost your sister," Garion said. The Orb grew brighter. "She chose Riva over you."

"She was everything to me!" Polgara yelled. Sparks appeared around her and people backed away from her.

"But you weren't everything to her," Garion said.

A sorcerous wind pulled at Polgara's hair.

"You despised Riva," Garion continued, "because Beldaran loved him more than she loved you." The light from the Orb grew brighter and its surface darker with every word. A dark aura traced Garion's outline, and his eyes took on a feral light.

The static around Polgara grew stronger. She took a step forward.

"When you saw the chance for revenge," Garion said. "You took it. You despised me for existing, and I knew it! You couldn't hurt me physically, but you tried to destroy me every other way. I was never a person to you. I was your mouse to play with."

"I gave my life to you!" Polgara screamed.

"Garion is right, Polgara!" Durnik said.

Polgara turned on him.

"Everyone at the farm knew," the blacksmith said. "We were too afraid of you to stop you, so we tried to save him every other way we could. It's why I made him my apprentice."

The rage overtook Polgara, and she screamed, "He deserved it!" Sparks struck the floor around her. "He was pathetic and worthless! I lost someone a thousand times better than he could ever be! The world deserves a better savior than that! He was never better than a slab of meat!"

"He was a child!" Durnik yelled.

"Do you want them to know, Polgara?" Garion said. "Do you want them to know what you did to me?" He pulled at the strings holding on the leather bands.

"Stop it!" Polgara said.

"ENOUGH!" Garion yelled. Another wave struck them, pushing back Belgarath and Polgara and throwing the others to the floor. Garion pulled off the bands while his companions struggled to their feet. "Here!" he said and showed them the long scars on his wrists. "I dreamt of this since I was eight. This is what you did to me."

The companions stared in shock. Ce'Nedra gasped and hugged Adara. They all turned toward Polgara. Barak's lips curled back, and Mandorallen reflexively reached for his sword. Belgarath looked at his daughter as if he'd never known her. Garion stepped in front of Polgara, his body glowing with rage and power. His aura pushed hers away like a strong wind throwing fresh snow.

"You hoped you could beat me into submission, Polgara, but you failed." His voice was low and dark with a victim's wrath. "If you come near me again, I will take that omnipotent sword you wanted me to have, and I will kill you with it." A black line crossed the Orb at the word "kill." Garion walked from the room, but the glow and the dark patches did not fade from the Orb.

Durnik broke the hard silence. "Three years ago—"

Polgara glared at him. "You'll lose me."

"I lost you the moment I took his side," Durnik said. "Faldor gave Garion a knife at the new year celebration. I knew Faldor's mistake the moment Garion saw the knife. He left the party late after most people were asleep. I followed his tracks and found him half a mile from the farm, his wrists bleeding into the snow."

"He was weak," Polgara said.

"Weak?" Mandorallen said. "He bore the fate of the world for six months in silence and solitude. He complained but once, and we defended his oppressor. Still, he walked into the face of death for us. Where was the weakness in his character?"

"We're done, Durnik," Polgara said.

"I know," he replied. "I still don't know how I fell in love with you. You were kind and fair to everyone but that boy. I'm sorry I could never save him from you."

"Go back to the Vale, Polgara," Belgarath said. "Garion was right. Beldaran loved Riva and her children. She would have hated you for this."

"She was mine," Polgara said. "In a way you never understood. She wasn't yours or Riva's or Garion's. She was my twin. She was half of my existence. You tore her away from me for that useless boy and asked me to like it."

"Riva's bride had to be a sorceress. You knew that," Belgarath said. "Riva could hold the Orb; he couldn't control it. If Garion hadn't had her blood, you'd be pleasuring Kal Torak."

The others flinched at the image.

"I loved you," Ce'Nedra said to Polgara, wiping away tears. "I trusted you more than anyone, and you tormented a child out of spite."

"I don't care," Polgara said. "I care about my sister."

"Your sister is dead," Ce'Nedra spat. "My husband is alive, and you tried to destroy him. We defended you to him. No wonder he doesn't believe we love him."

"Go back to the Vale," Belgarath said.

"He can't kill me," Polgara said. "I'm part of the next prophecy."

"He could kill you after," Belgarath said. "I'm not afraid for the prophecy. Garion has shown he can do the job in difficult circumstances."

Barak said, "He must have learned that from Durnik."

Belgarath said, "Go, Polgara. I want you gone before sunrise."

Polgara walked from the room as if she owned the castle.

"How didn't we know?" Hettar said.

Silk replied, "She was kind and fair to everyone else."

"How did Garion know all of that?" Durnik asked.

"A lot of it was guesswork," Belgarath said. "But he was right. She always hated Riva. Garion must have read old accounts of us and pieced things together. And, I think he was more observant than we realized."

Silk said, "He was more a lot of things than we realized."

"I'll be leaving tomorrow," Belgarath said. "I have more work to do than I thought."

"What of Errand?" Hettar asked.

"He's not descended from Beldaran. He should be fine, but I'll have the twins look in on him every once in a while." Belgarath turned to Durnik. "The next prophecy says you're together."

Durnik sighed and nodded. "I still love her. I have no idea why. I'll go to the Vale. Sometime next year."

Belgarath nodded. "'Belgarath was the asshole guy.' Where did that come from?"

The others shrugged cautiously.

Belgarath watched the Orb. Its light had abated some, and its original color began to return.

"Anywhere in the castle," he said. "I didn't know that. If you have the time, ask him not to blow up the island."

The wizard departed. Ce'Nedra and Adara consoled each other. The companions looked at each other solemnly. Durnik was the first to laugh, then Barak, and the others followed in a wave. Ce'Nedra and Adara watched them in shock.

"Arendia," Durnik said. The others nodded.

"Fucking Arendia," Hettar said. They laughed harder.

"God, that explains a lot," Barak said.

Ce'Nedra and Adara stared at them.

"He played us so many times," Silk said. The companions nodded. "That boy got out of so much shit pretending to be a farm boy."

Adara began to laugh.

"Adara," Ce'Nedra said. "This is horrible."

"I know," Adara said, trying not to laugh. "Do you realize he knew while you were telling him about the Accords."

"That son-of-a-bitch!" Ce'Nedra said. Everyone laughed harder.

Hettar said to Adara, "He gets that from your side of the family."

She laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. They all surrendered to their laugher.

"Verily," Mandorallen said at last. "His Majesty has depths we have not witnessed."

"My lords," Ce'Nedra said. "It sounds as if it will be some years before Garion is called upon again. He might like to spend that time training."

The companions looked at each other and nodded.

Barak said, "He had better learn to appreciate you soon."

Ce'Nedra smiled. "I completely agree, Lord Barak. I will leave my husband to all of you for now. Adara, would you like some raspberry tarts?" They departed together.

After they left, Silk said in a low voice, "More happened in Arendia than they know." The companions leaned close. "Do you remember that noblewoman?"


Garion stood in the highest tower of the castle and looked down on the city.

"Are you there?"

I'm always here, even if I don't respond.

"Did you know?"

Yes. Would it help if I said I was sorry?

"Would it be true?"

Silence.

"That's what I thought."

I make a move. My opponent makes a move. That's the rule. I chose Beldaran to be the bride of Riva. He chose Polgara to be the bride of Torak. I guided Beldaran to become gentle and loving.

"Right."

He allowed Polgara to indulge her despair to make her a better bride for Torak. If Torak had won, Polgara would now be indulging herself with your companions.

"Couldn't you do anything, or didn't you want to?"

We could not control your response to the fight. You were the required variable in the game. However, we could try to direct you.

"You did it intentionally."

My opponent gambled that Polgara's treatment would make you submissive. I gambled she would make you angry. And here you are.

"You're telling me I should hate all three of you."

Yes.

"Was it wise to make the bearer of the Orb that angry?"

The fight was more important than the Orb.

"What about Polgara?"

If you survive the last prophecy, the two of you will be reconciled. In about three centuries.

"I look forward to it."

This will be our last conversation until the next prophecy. It's not that I don't like you, but I'm very busy right now.

"I don't mind. These conversations make people look at me funny."


The next morning, Garion sat at a table in an isolated room and read as he ate his breakfast. Ce'Nedra entered, food in her hands, and raised her eyebrows. Garion nodded and closed the book.

"More prophecy?" Ce'Nedra asked, sitting down.

"A novel," Garion said. "I like reading."

Ce'Nedra looked at him.

"I'll explain later," he said.

"Did you speak with Belgarath?" Ce'Nedra asked.

"Yes," Garion said. "I spoke hastily but honestly when I threatened Polgara. I understand the prophecy is more important. He assured me my role and hers would change the next time. I also have a few years to relax. Speaking of which, my... friends... told me your suggestion. Thank you."

Ce'Nedra nodded. "The cook—"

"Maurelle."

"Yes. She'll be fine. I've seen to that."

"Thank you," Garion said.

"Blueberry tarts today," Ce'Nedra said, pushing a small plate forward. Garion took a tart. "She's a very good cook. In fact, Silk suggested the sausage."

"He's playing a joke on you," Garion said. "It's very spicy."

Ce'Nedra took a bite. "Yes," she said and drank some water. "It's very good, though."

They ate in silence for a while.

"Do you remember that first time my horse was skittish, and I asked you for help?" Ce'Nedra said.

"Yes," Garion said. "I always wondered why you didn't ask Hettar to calm her down."

"I wanted a handsome boy to pay attention to me."

"Oh."

"I expected you to hold the horse while I climbed up," she said. "Instead, you took me by the waist and lifted me onto the saddle. I'd never been touched like that before. It gave me butterflies."

"Is that why you put burrs under her saddle?"

"Yes," Ce'Nedra said. "I feel terrible. I did so many horrible things to that horse to get your attention."

"Ask Hettar to apologize for you."

She nodded.

They ate a bit more.

"I thought you were beautiful in your wedding dress," Garion said.

"Thank you," she said.

"I also thought..." he began. "I thought you were beautiful in your nightgown."

She blushed and thanked him. "What do we do now?"

"I guess we talk," he said.

Ce'Nedra smiled at her husband, and her husband smiled back.