After I had left my family in the Vale, I trekked north, deeper into Algaria. I needed a horse; it would take forever to get to wherever I was going by walking. I often wondered where I was going. Where could I go, a Demigod, the son of a God and Polgara the Sorceress? Where could I fit in? I was an oddity, as far as I knew I was the only one of my kind. Perhaps Belar . . . but I laughed at that. If he had Demigods as children, we would have seen or heard about them, considering the number of his conquests.
While walking I was tempted to turn back and return to the Vale, but then I remembered how painful those memories were, and I continued north.
I happened upon horse traders faster than I thought I would. There were about a dozen of them, and with them around two dozen of the finest steeds I've ever seen.
As I approached, they waved me over, inviting me to join them. When I could make out their features, I used my will to mask my own; I was afraid of how they would react to an Angarak after the destruction of Riva. I kept the blue eyes, but I lessened the harshness of my features, aged myself, and gave myself brown hair instead of black.
They were kind to me, offering food and water and some supplies. After all the pleasantries were out of the way, I offered to purchase one of their horses. They looked at each other and then back at me. They offered a ridiculous price, to which I countered with a reasonable amount. It went on for some time before we finally agreed on a price, which still nearly bankrupted me, but at least I got my pick of any of the stallions. I perused them till one of them quite deliberately bumped its head into my back.
I spun around, glaring at the beast. The stallion was majestic, its body, tail, and mane were black, but with a bluish sheen. It kept staring right into my eyes, like it was trying to see into my soul, if Demigods even had one. It was then I really made good use of my powers as a Demigod.
I heard its thoughts in my head.
"What?" I thought.
"You. Good two-leg."
I looked around; the Algars were watching me with anticipation. I knew it would be rude not to pick soon, so I asked the horse, "Good four-leg?"
I then turned to the Algars and pointed to the black stallion. "This one," I said.
Lots of money exchanged hands, the Algars grinning like little boys just given candy, but they provided a saddle and reins. I mounted and set off again northwards, towards the Stronghold.
As we went on, I asked the horse what its name was.
"Black Thunder," it replied.
"May I just call you Thunder?"
The thinking creature nodded its consent.
"Thunder, what did you mean by calling me a 'good two-leg'?"
"Good heart, not dark like other dark-skin-two-legs."
I got a mental image of an Angarak in the horse's mind, one that was abusing its steed, the stallion's mother, and a wave of empathy washed over me as I felt the creature's pain as my own.
"My birth-mare was abused by a dark-skin-two-leg as well."
Thunder said nothing, but I could feel his understanding in my mind.
Some days later . . .
We arrived at the Stronghold some days later. I had heard tales of this structure from my father's ranting and a few of the Angarak generals, but nothing could have prepared me for the awe that filled me as I gazed upon the fortress. It truly was magnificent, if not pretty to look at. Reaching towards the heavens like the manmade mountain it was, it was no wonder why the hordes of Torak failed to capture it.
We approached the eastern gate, at which we were forced to halt. Two Algars came down and approached us.
"Ho, traveler!" one called out, "Who are you and where are you headed in Algar lands?"
"I am Zarok," I replied, "a humble traveler in search of a meal and a bed for the night before I move on."
"Forgive us, Zarok, but these are uncertain times. We must search your belongings to ensure you mean us no harm."
"Very well, I have nothing to hide." I dismounted and handing them by saddlebags and sword. They searched through my food and other few belongings, but lingered on the sword.
It was an elaborate piece, forged by the finest smiths in Mallorea. The hilt was coated in red gold, fashioned so that the pommel resembled a dragon's head, the cross guard the wings, and the tail piercing the blood groove. The blade tapered down to a point, an unusual style for Angaraks—who favored the scimitar—but the most unusual part of it was the blade's color. Halfway up the blade from the cross guard the metal was black, but the rest of the way it was blue.
The Algars looked from the sword to me. "This is your only weapon?"
"Yes, it is."
They nodded and sheathed the sword, handing it back to me. "Welcome to the Stronghold, Zarok."
"Thank you, horse-master."
I mounted Thunder and myself and the guards rode into the city. As we passed through the gate, I asked my escorts what was going on that forced them to such precautions.
"You mean you haven't heard?"
I pretended not to know and shook my head.
"Torak has finally been killed by King Geral Godslayer and the Angaraks are in flight back to their lands. Those that remained in Vo Mimbre after Torak's victory there fled after receiving word of Torak's fall and are scattered across the western half of the world. Many have gathered into pockets of zealous resistance and continue to fight in the Maimed One's name. The Malloreans are regrouping on the other side of the Eastern Sea marshalling a new army, or so they say.
"That's why we searched you, we had to be sure you weren't a Mallorean spy or an Angarak rebel."
"Ah, well, that makes sense."
"Why did two-legs fight?"
"The leader of the dark-skin-yellow-eyed-two-legs took something from the leader of the pale-skin-blue-eyed-two-legs, and the two-legs fought over that."
Thunder nickered and bobbed his head in understanding.
I expected more people in the Stronghold, but we rarely interacted with anyone else till we reached what I assumed was an inn. The guards dismounted and motioned for me to do the same. One led me in, pointing at an Algar woman behind a counter.
I approached and smiled. She smiled back.
"Good afternoon," I said, "are you the owner of this fine establishment?"
"Yes, I am. Anara is my name."
"I am Zarok. Am I wrong in assuming that there is room here for me to rest my head for the night?"
"No, you are not. Follow me."
She led me up the stairs to the second floor, and gave me a key to the first door on the left. I opened the door and entered the simple yet comfortable lodgings. I placed my saddlebags by the foot of the bed, but kept my sword with me. I turned to see Anara still in the doorway, but when she saw me turn she left rather quickly. I smiled, and then I closed the door and released my Will.
I stepped over to the polished mirror and regarded my normal face. I was only thirteen. Was I ready to make my own way in this world?
Then I remembered my horse back outside and I bolted for the exit. I was relieved to find him still there, although he was a little annoyed that I had forgotten him. I led him into the stables and penned him up. How ready was I when I could barely remember to take care of my steed?
I turned to leave, giving him some fresh hay and oats, when I saw a boy in the stables with me. He must have been a stable hand, he carried a pitchfork, but the pock-marked little boy stared with horror at me. I then realized that I had forgotten to change my appearance before I had left.
The boy cried out in alarm: "Angarak! Angarak in the Stronghold!" and he dropped the pitchfork and ran out to the streets, crying "Angarak" the whole way.
I turned back to Thunder, who stared at me as well. "You dark-skin-two-leg?" he asked.
"No, I am only half, a dark-skin-blue-eyed-two-leg!"
He continued to stare, as if telling me he thought he could trust me. I felt horrible, I finally had a friend, and now I messed it up. I stood there, moping as Algar soldiers poured into the stables. Upon seeing me, they approached with caution, for they were worried what powers I possessed to have snuck into their Stronghold without detection.
When I made no move to stop them, they came forward, sabers drawn. Thunder, however, reared and leapt into their path, neighing for all his worth. "No bad dark-skin-two-leg!" he kept thinking at them. "No bad dark-skin-two-leg!"
One of the Algars halted in his tracks, staring at the horse.
"Stop!" he cried to his comrades. They did, looking at their captain with raised eyebrows. "The stallion, he says the Angarak isn't bad."
"What are you talking about, Hattar?" one of them asked.
"Who do you think you are," another asked, smirking, "A Sha-Dar?"
"Yes," Hattar said with such force and command that the soldiers' mouths opened from surprise. They lowered their weapons as Hattar approached me. "What is your name, son?"
"Who are your parents?"
"Polgara the Sorceress and Torak the Dragon God of the Angaraks."
Gasps echoed in the stable. Hattar whistled. "Well now, that explains a lot. I remember the Lady Polgara when last she stayed here. Yes, I see her eyes in you, and her kindness, not the harsh hatred and contempt of the Angarak race." He held out his hand to me. "Please forgive myself and my comrades for our presumptions. You are most welcome in our Stronghold, son of Polgara."
"And of Torak," I added resentfully. "I thank you for your offer, but perhaps it is best that I leave."
"But where will you go?"
"East, to the lands of my own people, the Angaraks. Maybe there I can fit in, for I cannot among Alorns."
"But you are just a child!"
"I can fight, if you don't believe me, we can fight right now." I put a hand on my sword. "I am also half a God and of the line of sorcerers, I can take care of myself."
"I do not doubt you, noble Zarokal, but at least wait for the morning, and then you'll have light to see by."
I sighed, "Very well."
The next day . . .
As I strapped on my sword and cloak, Anara stood in the doorway, looking mournfully at me. I knew why, she thought I was too young to endure this kind of life.
"I appreciate your concern," I said, "but I can take care of myself."
She started, "How did you . . .?"
"I'm a Demigod and a sorcerer, reading emotions is one of my minor talents."
She nodded, leaning against the doorframe, her arms crossed. Sighing, she said softly, "Even a God needs companions."
I paused in picking up my pack, turning to face her. She must have had a younger brother, or even a son, for I saw a tenderness towards me in her eyes that was uncommon to everyone else.
Despite my youth, I was taller than she. I picked up my pack and, shouldering it, placed a hand on her shoulder. "There is no one who can walk with me the path I have chosen. I cannot make friends as easily as you mortals. Thank you for your hospitality." And with that I left her home.
As we left the Stronghold, Thunder asked where we were going.
"East, towards the lands of the dark-skin-two-legs."
"Perhaps we can do some good there. Not all of them are bad, so I've heard."
He made a sound that sounded a lot like a harrumph. I laughed, this was going to be interesting.