"I'll go on ahead to Riva by sea," Garion told them. They sat around a large table in Korrodullin's study. The Mimbrate king had almost had apoplexy at the large number of knights in full armor on his doorstep. Mandorallen's smile as he had introduced them all had threatened to make his face split in half. Now the king and queen watched their visitors with admiration and undisguised trust. Sparhawk once again shuddered at the seeming naiveté of these people. Garion went on. "The storms can be sailed around. I'm pretty sure we can handle them. In the meantime, Sparhawk can go overland and pick up as much information as possible about the Bear Cult. We'll split up so there will be 'powerful' people in each group, just in case."
"You make it sound like an afternoon outing," Talen commented. "Like it's a scavenger hunt at a country fair."
"It is a hunt, for information, and there's a prize for the winner," Silk told him.
"The winner gets to stay alive."
"It's a good plan," Vanion approved. "Garion should get back home to Riva as soon as possible to protect his family and to get a secure footing on what is happening up there. This trip into Murgodom was hardly more than a waste of time."
"We did find out some information, though," Silk said. "Those pictures of Rokor are going to be pretty valuable when we go searching for his friends up here."
"Alright," Belgarath said, clearing his throat. "Sparhawk will take his wife and daughter, as well as Pol, Durnik, Khalad, Berit, Lelldorin, Hettar, Kalten, Silk and Talen. I'll go with Garion and Ce'Nedra, Liselle, Pelath, Barak, Tynian, Ulath, Stragen, Mandorallen, Bevier, Vanion and Sephrenia. We'll take Greldik's ship up the coast. Sparhawk will go north to Muros, then west to Camaar. By the time you get there, Greldik should have dropped us off. He can swing south and pick you up there and bring you to Riva."
Liselle opened her mouth. Garion was sure she was going to ask to go with her husband, but instead she said, "Sounds like a good plan."
"But if we put Sparhawk and Garion back together, this is all pointless," Barak pointed out.
"I'm hoping we can come up with a solution before that point."
Garion sighed. "Something wrong?" Ce'Nedra asked him.
"This whole thing seems so disconnected. We have random incidents that take us all over the place, and nothing really gets solved. There's not even a good war to fight, or a good villain to chase."
Barak laughed. "He's an Alorn alright, Belgarath."
"You should be happy there's no war to fight, Garion. At least not yet. The last thing we want is for a lot of people to get killed when they don't have to. If we can follow this thing around to get a solution, it will probably save a lot of lives."
"But it's kind of..."
"Boring?" Sparhawk put in.
"I wasn't going to say that. It's not boring, but it seems as if we're not doing anything but sitting around deciding where to go and what to do, rather than doing it."
"It'll pick up," Sparhawk said. "Pretty soon there will be bloodshed and then we'll have plenty of things to do. Well have a bad guy to kill and a city to burn down. That's usually how these things turn out."
"That's a bleak outlook," Silk replied.
"Usually true, though," Vanion told him.
Sparhawk was in his room polishing his armor later that evening when Khalad came in. He hurriedly shut the door and leaned against it. "Something wrong?" Sparhawk asked him.
Khalad blushed. "Nothing, Sparhawk. Just getting away from...out of the way I mean." He looked at Sparhawk's armor. "I should be doing that." He reached for the rag.
"You don't really have to. Since I had you knighted you're technically not my squire."
Khalad snorted. "I'll be your squire for as long as I want to be, Sparhawk. Title or no title. It's what my father wanted and just because I have a 'Sir' tacked on to my name doesn't change who I intend to be." He roughly scrubbed at a small dull spot on Sparhawk's breastplate.
Sparhawk gave up. He knew that being in the royal circle in Arendia was bothering Khalad. The gruff man wasn't comfortable with his knighthood as it was, and the courtiers and Arendish knights focused on nobility like a starving hound focuses on a piece of meat. Khalad's arrangement was comfortable and Sparhawk admitted that he did not want to lose his squire any more than Khalad wanted to lose his master. Sparhawk decided to not draw attention to Khalad's knighthood, in the hopes that the title hungry hounds of the Arendish court would leave him alone.
It wasn't as if they were starved for knights to dote on. In addition to the King and the number of self-deployed royal guardians, many men wore full armor in this country as casually as Sparhawk would put on a tunic everyday. With a rye smile he wondered if they would continue to wear armor every day if it were as heavy as Tynian's. He grunted as he set his helmet on the table next to his steel gauntlets. It served a purpose, though. From what Lelldorin had told them, not a week went by without someone challenging someone else to a duel in which one or both opponents went home maimed, at the very least. It was unlikely that any of the Knights of the Church, even with their foreign allure, could match the towering reputation of the Baron of Vo Mandor. Mandorallen was quite a knight, to be sure, completely selfless and fearless to a fault. But Sparhawk sensed a lack of guile that disturbed him. There was something missing in the Arendish psyche that Sparhawk felt was necessary to ultimate knighthood. Perhaps it was his association to the mysticism of Styrics, and the distrust with which he had spent most of his life, but, especially in this, until recently, war-torn country, Sparhawk felt that a knight had to keep a part of himself hidden, sheltered, as a last surprise against an enemy. These knights with their open faces and their hearts on their sleeves grated against him.
Khalad had finished polishing the breast and back plates, and was picking up a heavy shin guard when Silk opened the door. "Lady Polgara wants to leave relatively early in the morning," he informed them. He looked speculatively at Sparhawk. "She said you were going to be in charge on this trip, except for navigation, which means-"
"She is. Right," Sparhawk said with a smile. "Sephrenia's been that way for as long as I've known her. We're just around to fight things off and eat all the food." Silk grinned and left.
"That man always seems like he is up to something," Khalad observed as he buffed the heavy shin piece to gleaming brilliance. Although Sparhawk's armor was black, Khalad and his father both had prided themselves on the fact that Sparhawk could always see himself in it.
"I think that he is always up to something. I worry about the effect he has on Talen."
"My brother can't get any more corrupt, Sparhawk," Khalad told him with a rye smile. "I worry about Silk." Sparhawk knew that Khalad actually was proud of the way that Talen had turned out as a knight, and that that was part of the reason that Khalad himself had all but openly refused his own knighthood. "So," Sparhawk's squire continued. "Do you think it will work?"
"Do I think what will work?"
"This separation. It will probably take us the better part of three weeks to reach the Isle of the Winds, and even in that time it would probably be difficult to solve all of the problems we seem to be having."
Although Khalad was not by nature a pessimist, he had always had a knack for pointing out the worst points in a situation. He called it being practical; Sparhawk had another name for it.
"I don't see as we have any choice, do you?"
"Oh I know we have no choice," Khalad said, looking directly at him. "I was just curious if you thought it would work."
Sparhawk couldn't answer. "Let's go see what these Arends have for wine, shall we?"
"You go ahead. I'm going to finish up here. I won't have you looking like a rusty barrel in front of the King and Queen."
Halfway down the back stairs to the kitchens Sparhawk ran into Kalten, almost literally. The big blonde man was walking up the stairs, staring at something in his hands. Sparhawk nimbly dodged. "What's that?" he asked as Kalten headed past him.
"What?" Kalten looked up. "Oh, sorry, Sparhawk. It's a letter."
"Why don't you mind you own business?"
"I'm just curious. It might have been important."
"It's from me, alright?"
"You sent yourself a letter?"
"No. I haven't sent myself anything. I just said I wrote it."
"What's the holdup?" Talen was trying to come down the stairs behind Sparhawk.
"Nothing, just our glorious leader being snoopy."
"Why don't you come down and have a drink with me, Kalten?" Sparhawk said, ignoring that last statement. The blonde knight shrugged, folded the letter and stuffed it inside his shirt. As they started down, Sparhawk did something he hadn't done before. He turned. "Care to join us, Talen?"
Talen's eyes widened. True he had not quite yet won his spurs, but he was at an appropriate age, Sparhawk felt. "Sure," Talen said carefully. "Thanks."
Sparhawk felt that it was perhaps time to start thinking of Talen as, if not an equal, at least grown up. Especially if Danae was as serious as she was. Sparhawk still had some reservations in the back of his mind about all of that, but he knew that they would mean nothing to anyone now or later, so he shut them up as best he could and ignored them.
As Kalten headed down ahead of them, Talen drew Sparhawk back a little. "Uh, my Lord," he said in a hushed voice.
"You don't have to call me that, Talen. You never used to."
"That was before I was a knight. Look. I guess I'd better just say this. I need to talk to you about Danae." His face was earnest as he looked at Sparhawk.
"Anything in particular?"
"Yes. We don't have to talk about it now, of course, but I have some questions that I'm pretty sure you're one of very few people who can answer. I was going to ask Sephrenia, but I felt more comfortable approaching you. Besides, I don't think she would have told me the truth."
Sparhawk was immediately on his guard. "Perhaps we should talk about them now." He raised his voice. "I forgot something in my rooms, Kalten. I'll be down in a few minutes." He turned back to Talen. "In here." He opened a door to a small empty chamber.
"Well, Sparhawk," Talen started nervously. "I've racked my brain, and even asked some physicians about this. I even looked up your family history in the Pandion records."
"Because I needed to know why Danae doesn't look like an Elene. I thought maybe you had a Styric ancestor somewhere or something."
Sparhawk gulped. He now thought he knew where this was going, and wasn't sure how to avoid it.
"I looked up that poison and I know it made the Queen barren. I thought for a while that maybe you and Sephrenia, but that obviously was pretty stupid," he gave Sparhawk an apologetic glance. "I thought and thought, and I finally put two and two together, and I think I've made four. I need someone to check my figures for me, though. I know you don't have to tell me, but I need to ask anyway." He paused. "Is Danae who I think she is? Is she Aphrael?"
Talen's directness made prevarication out of the question. It was pretty clear that he already knew the answer. "Yes," Sparhawk said. Anything else would have insulted the young knight's intelligence.
Talen merely nodded. "I figured it was something like that."
"You're ok with this?" Sparhawk demanded. "It took me at least a week to get used to the idea and I'm her father!"
"I don't really have much choice, do I? If she is a goddess, then I have even less chance of escaping her plans of matrimony." Talen smiled impishly, and Sparhawk saw once again the thief boy that he had met so many long years before. It that moment, Sparhawk was convinced that both Talen and his daughter had met their match. He suddenly felt a whole lot better about the situation.
There was still one issue, however. "Just, uh, keep it to yourself, okay?"
"I know, Sparhawk. One thing I learned from my parents was how to keep a secret. Although how Aslade found out I still don't know." He gave Sparhawk another crooked smile. "We'd better get down there before Kalten drinks the kitchens dry."
"I don't think even he can do that. These Arends drink almost as much as the Alorns do."
Talen shrugged. "He's got quite a reputation among the novices. Just hope no one ever tries to out drink him."