Ancient


Garion had been the Rivan King for years. Seventy-one of them, to be exact. At first his people had been shocked that he was still alive after so long, but they were pleased when he explained that since he was a Sorcerer, they were stuck with him for a long time yet. He was a good king, friendly with his people, and a good father.

He and Ce'Nedra had seven children, six girls and their eldest, Prince Geran, when they decided to take a break. They would let their children grow up, live in Riva and in the Wood of the Dryad if they so chose, and then have some more. They had plenty of time. Garion was immortal, and Ce'Nedra, a Dryad, would live as long as her tree did. They were in no rush.

Garion was unnaturally youthful as well as unnaturally long-lived. He didn't start his "decline" into old age until he was nearly fifty, and he was the envy of his friends and counselors who happened to be his age.

There came a point in his life where he began to attend funerals—a lot of funerals. He was immortal, yes, but his friends were not.

The other kings were first to go—Anheg, Cho-Hag, Zakath. It came as a shock to him at first, but as even Silk and Barak and Hettar succumbed to old age, Garion grew gradually less and less upset, and more melancholy. Ce'Nedra and his children—Geran was also a Sorcerer, and his daughters Dryads—were there to comfort him, but it was painful to watch everyone around him age and die.

Belgarath, Poledra, Polgara, and Durnik were there for him, and would always be there for him (they were Sorcerers, too). Garion took to visiting the Vale of Aldur after each funeral, to celebrate the lives of his friends, and to be grateful their deaths were peaceful and not sudden. Belgarath pitied him, he could tell, but more for his lack of experience than his sorrow. His Grandfather had seen many people, friends and enemies alike, succumb to mortality, and he was used to it after seven thousand years. Garion was not.

After a particularly heart wrenching funeral, that of his cousin Adara, he had important business to attend to back in Riva and could not stay in the Vale of Aldur to wind down. Anxious and foul-tempered, King Belgarion returned to the Isle of the Winds still full of grief for Adara. Her children had been especially sorrowful, having seen their father Hettar die only a few years previously, and unfortunately, Garion expressed his grief through anger more than sadness.

The Overlord of the West snapped at Kail's son, Anthon, who had taken over after his father's death, when the young man solemnly informed his king of the visiting Tolnedran delegation.

"I don't have time for Ran Borune's chicanery!" he growled to Anthon, meaning of course Varana's son—even that friend of his had died. "Tell him I'll meet with him tomorrow!"

"But your Majesty," Anthon protested, "the delegate has been waiting for a week while you were away in Algaria—"

"Well, he can wait some more!" Garion snapped. "I'm not in the mood for this, Anthon! Leave me alone!"

Anthon's face clearly showed distress, but Garion was in such an awful mood that he didn't care. "As—as my king commands," he mumbled, backing down, though he clearly didn't like it. Garion felt a twinge of guilt, but it wasn't enough to make him apologize.

Anthon scurried out of the room, leaving Garion fuming all by himself. He stormed up through the castle and up to his rooms, tempted to set something on fire to release his energy. Instead, he pulled Iron-grip's sword of of its case and took it down to the practice rooms, ready to beat up some dummies.

The swordsmen already there took one look at Garion and fled, leaving him alone. He was glad of that, he didn't want to offend anyone else today. His yells of anger and frustration echoed throughout the empty practice hall, echoed by the sound of his sword attacking the straw dummies.

Half an hour later, Garion could swing his sword no longer. He dropped Iron-grip's broadsword on the ground, and collapsed into a chair, breathing heavily. On the ground, the Orb of Aldur whistled and sang, oblivious to its wielder's foul mood.

At last the anger left him and he began to cry, softly at first but with growing intensity. He fervently wished that he had gone to the Vale to do this—his family would sympathize, and he wouldn't have to deal with any skittering and nervous servants wondering what was wrong.

"Adara," Garion sobbed. "Adara!"

He knew she had died peacefully, happily, after a long and fulfilling life, but it still hurt to know that he would never see her face again, never go riding with her or laugh at her jokes. Not that he had done any of those things recently—he had his duties as a king, and she was too old to ride a horse anymore. Old and frail.

Garion would grow older, but no frailer. He could not live as other men did, for his life had no discernible end. He clutched his knees and sobbed, tears streaming down his face.

At last his sobs subsided, and Garion took a deep breath, wiping his eyes. This was stupid, he thought to himself. He was a grown man, he wasn't supposed to cry like this unless he was drunk. Even then it was embarrassing.

He got up and collected himself, dusting off his clothes and forcing a smile back on his face. Garion walked back up to his rooms and put Iron-grip's sword back in its place, then decided it was high time he took a nap. He curled up in his bed and fell asleep in a matter of minutes.

He woke to Ce'Nedra gently calling his name. Rubbing his eyes, Garion sat up sleepily and smiled at his beautiful wife.

"Hello, dear," she said in greeting. She wasn't smiling. "I heard about the fit you threw a few hours ago. What was it this time?"

She was upset with him. Garion grew irritated all over again. "It's...nothing," he said with difficulty, trying to quash his anger and not yell at Ce'Nedra. That phase of their marriage had ended long ago. "Just...I didn't want to meet with the Tolnedran ambassador."

Ce'Nedra scowled. "Garion, really? You snapped at Anthon and kicked everyone out of the practice rooms because you didn't like Lord Ebris? He's quite a nice fellow, actually—"

"I'm sure he is," Garion snapped. "It's just...I had to come back, I couldn't go the Vale. I..." He felt tired again, even though he had just slept. "It's...Adara." He swallowed, fighting back tears. "I know she was old, I know I shouldn't be this upset...but it hurts. I hurts, outliving everyone I love, except for you and the rest of the family. I miss her. I miss everyone—Silk, and Barak, and Zakath, and even Sadi, and they're all going to die and I'll still be here, and I'll never see them again!"

He was very close to breaking down again. He took a deep breath and looked away as Ce'Nedra's expression turned from angry to concerned.

"Garion, dear, I'm sorry, I didn't know you were still upset about that, I—" she said in a rush, her green eyes wide in distress.

"I...it's fine," he mumbled, embarrassed at his tears.

"No, no it's not fine, Garion," she said, her voice breaking along with Garion's heart. "I...I miss them too. Mandorallen's funeral...I admit I snuck into Grandfather's ale while you two were upstairs and drunk myself silly." Garion wasn't the only one blinking back tears now. Somehow she had tangled herself all up in his arms and they were crying together, crying as one for their lost friends.

After a while the crying subsided and they were quiet, curled up together in their bed. Garion felt better after this, his anger and grief spent.

Ce'Nedra laughed quietly, a little sob still caught in her throat, ticking Garion's short-cut beard.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Garion—your beard," she giggled.

"What about my beard?" Garion said.

She smiled, her eyes bright still with tears. "It's—you've been graying for a while now, but you're not blonde anymore."

"What?" Garion, surprised and slightly distressed, rolled out of the bed and hurried over to the nearest mirror. To his dismay, he found that Ce'Nedra was right—the change had been so gradual that he hadn't noticed, but his beard and hair were gray now.

"But I'm blonde!" he said stupidly, stroking his beard in frustration.

"You're old, Garion," Ce'Nedra laughed. "Maybe you are going to die after all!"

"Ce'Nedra!" he protested. "Stop making fun of me!"

"You look like your grandfather, actually," she said thoughtfully. "Maybe you ought to retire and hand the throne over to Geran!"

"He'd love that," Garion admitted. He sighed and shook his head, climbing back into bed with his wife. "I'm not too old for you, am I, Ce'Nedra?"

"Of course not, Garion, dear," she murmured. "Though I did like you blonde, of course."

Garion smiled, glad that the day's trials were over. "Yeah, me too," he answered mournfully. "Do you think Grandfather's noticed?"

"I'm sure he has," Ce'Nedra giggled. "He's probably laughing about it with Poledra right now."

He sighed and rolled his eyes, still smiling. At the end of the day, even if he had lost Adara, even if he had lost his youth, even if he was ancient, he still had Ce'Nedra, and she would look after him even as he looked after her.

Garion wrapped his arms around his wife and said, "Well, I may be old, but at least I'm not crabby like Grandfather, hm?"

"Oh, Garion," Ce'Nedra sighed, a knowing look in her eyes. "Only time will tell."