Cherek war ships were not designed for comfort. They were built for speed. However, the space below deck could be considered reasonably spacious. Half of the year, the space was used to transport cargo from one set of merchants to another; the rest of the time, to contain loot. Despite the attempts of the tolnedrans to instill some manner of control in the sea, piracy was still considered fair game by the chereks, and as legal as honest trade.
At the moment, the vast space bellow Greldick's ship sheltered a few dozen algars and asturians, a handful of sendars and even a dozen thulls. Although it was crowded, the algars and thulls were a quiet folk and the sober disposition of the sendars was buffering the over-enthusiastic buzzing of the asturian archers.
The ever practical sendars had even developed a system to neutralize the biggest inconvenience when sharing a small poorly ventilated space with 2 dozen horses: the overbearing stench of their dung. It involved a work chain where some men piled up the waste in one corner, while others shovelled it into a canvas spread across the floor. Another pair of men would carry it to deck and handed it over to be thrown overboard.
The companions were able to appreciate all of these details, but after travelling for so long in the dangerous and silent wilderness, the spirited socialization of their co-passengers-no matter how polite and soft spoken- was overbearing, and the constant movement as they tended to their various chores was unsettling. They all yearned for a quiet sheltered place where to rest.
Silk, Belgarath and Garion understood that there was no help for it, however, and that they would need to put up with the inconvenience until they were able to get re-accustomed to sharing their space with others. Ce'Nedra, however, was harder to appease. After just a few hours, she marched towards Greldick and demanded a cabin. It was impossible that in such a big ship, there wasn't one single room hidden somewhere.
"It is, though." Greldick had replied simply. She opened her mouth to wail some more, but the big cherek lifted a big thick hand to silence her. "Little girl, I didn't bring you here. I never got a say if you were coming or staying home. I think women should stay home. But...here you are. I can drop you off in some beach, if you want, and you can walk to the nearest city or village and get a room for yourself there. But, we are in angarak territory, so I don't know how well that would go for you. If you want to stay, then you're going to have to stay on deck or below deck. Either way, you're gonna have to put up with the smell and with the noise."
And that was that. She sulked and fumed, but there was no fault in Greldick's reasoning. Garion was impressed that Ce'Nedra let it drop, however. He had seen her be faced with reasonable arguments before, and she either kept looking for a reason to fight, or she would weep like a heartbroken child for a few minutes. It seemed the little dryad had grown some in the time they had been apart.
Polgara took a more hands-on approach to the problem. She inspected every square inch of the ship until she found what she was looking for: a small door in the wall. It was more in the nature of a storage compartment rather than a cabin but that wasn't important. A person could lay and sit inside, and that was enough. The ale barrels neatly stored in it were translocated outside and then Polgara walked in, bent slightly over to protect her head, and slammed the door shut behind her.
"Pol!" Belgarath protested. "Get out of there. Or have Ce'Nedra in there with you. Are you going to just sleep on the floor?"
There were blankets inside, most likely used to cushion the barrels and keep them from bumping around too much, but it was a detail she didn't feel the urge to make public. She simply rearranged them into a neat smooth pile and then Willed them to become thicker and softer. She then laid down on them and stared up at the ceiling. Drafts of light filtered through the cracks and empty places between the worn wooden planks. They shuddered and gave in as the sailors above stomped around, bellowing orders and cracking obscene jokes at one another.
Her senses took notice of every little thing around her, but her mind didn't seem to be able to properly process it. Even the voices of the others outside her lair were an incomprehensible buzzing in her ears. Polgara's attention was latched to the gnawing ache in her chest and the dull unrelenting pressure at the back of her neck and around her eyes. It wasn't a strange affliction. She had suffered it so many times that it felt like a sickness. A disease that had taken hold of her heart when Beldaran was taken by Ul, and it was never cured ever since. At times, it hibernated, giving Polgara time to recover. But then, inevitably, the sickness would revive, as strong and as painful as that first time.
It was cruel of the gods to design people that way, she thought. Would it not have been kinder to give them some defenses? A way to get used to the anguish in the same manner they could get accustomed to harsh weather, or to intense exercise? Why make it so that each loss hurt as intensely as the very first…
But then again, people were not meant to live as long as she had. In a lifetime, someone would lose a set of parents, perhaps a child or two if one was unlucky. And a husband or a wife. But death would inevitably claim every member of any given family. And in the Afterlife, they would meet with those who had passed on before them, and the sorrow would go away forever. Each person lived, suffered and then died. In that passing, they achieved peace and eternal happiness. Or so the stories went…
Polgara thought about that for a long while. Perhaps the gods had simply not taken into account that mortals suffered this way. After all, Torak was the first god to have ever died, and therefor, the first loved one they lost. Would Aldur be more sympathetic to her sorrow after he chewed on his own grief for a few days? Would he let her go if she asked again? Or Ul, perhaps, who had lost a son instead of a brother? He had to realize how cruel it was to make her endure such grief over and over and over again….
The Prophecy was in charge. They- gods, humans and beasts alike- were all slaves to It. And It was a slave of need. The Universe couldn't care less about individuals. It had a reason to be, a purpose, and it would fulfill it no matter the costs. She would not be free until it was all done and over with.
There was a knock on the door. Her ears registered it, but her mind took no notice.
She had fulfilled her task. She had promised to guard the Rivan line and deliver the God Slayer. And she had. Her task had been completed.
"Aunt Pol…?" Garion's plaintive call cut through the turmoil smothering her mind. "Please, talk to me."
"You've been locked in there for three days...I...I am coming in."
There was some muttering. Gruff voices, a high-pitched voice, and then Garion's again.
"I love you, Aunt Pol."
"I love you too, Lady Polgara..." Ce'Nedra's child-like voice chirped in.
A choked sob shook Polgara's body, and she covered her eyes with tightly closed fists. She tried to fight it off, knowing they might hear and get more insistent. It was a lost battle. She began to cry, trying to smother the anguished sounds escaping her mouth with wet hands. After a moment, her efforts lost any meaning, and she wept openly in the dark cabin, swallowed by the harrowing certainty that her grief would last forever.
It stank of horse dung. There was a big pile of the stuff in one corner and the thulls just kept piling it up there. As it were, the poor sendars had encountered an unexpected problem with their system. More precisely, two problems: arends and alorns.
The asturians felt that cleaning horse waste was beneath them. After all, they were noblemen and not commoners or serfs. Their task was to shoot arrows at the angaraks when the chereks engaged in battle with mallorean ships. Besides, these were not their horses, and so it wasn't their responsibility to deal with their maintenance either.
That had prompted some of the algars to announce their own noble lineages. They also reminded the asturians of the services they themselves had provided- with the aid of the horses- for the benefit of the entire unit, like loading supplies and even bringing Belgarath and the God Slayer back to safety.
"We all are in this together." A Sendar had intervened at that point, trying to put a stop to the arguments so that they could all get back to work. "Let's all do our part so that we can finish faster and have a more comfortable journey and more time to rest as well."
"We are asturian noblemen." Dorindell, the arendish captain, had insisted. "We do not stick our hands in waste."
"We live among horses and cows, nobleman." Rangar, the algar general, had stated in that soft murmuring tone of his people. "We do not mind the smell as much as it bothers other races. We will just make sure that the thulls clean every three days or so."
"Yes." The general buried his shovel into a pile of horse waste. "It sure is."
The rest of the algars had promptly followed his example. The asturians, however, barely sniffed their contempt and continued chattering among themselves. The sendars had continued the work for another day, hoping that their companions would recapacitate once anger ran its course. But they didn't, and annoyed by such lack of camadery and common sense, they had also abandoned their posts and moved up to the deck to assist in the repairs of the ship, the cleaning on deck and the preparation and distribution of the food. Unsupervised, the thulls proceeded to loiter in the corners.
Belgarath knew that one command from him would put an end to the entire idiocy, but he couldn't bring himself to care enough. He did want to beat some sense into an idiot with his bare fists, but it felt wrong for someone of his stature and age to go around picking fights like a common drunktard. Someone had to come and pick a fight with him instead so that he could defend himself by smashing their teeth in. And so he sat in one corner with all of Greldick's previously private ale barrels around him. He had opened one and drank from it, glaring darkly at anyone who glanced his way, and yearning for them to make an issue of it. So far, no-one had. Not even the rightful owner of those ale barrels.
"You're paying for those." Greldick had warmed Barak after throwing one glance at the scowling Belgarath.
"Why me? This is a State matter. Bill Anheg."
A few days later, the asturians and the algars had been dropped off in the ports nearest to their homelands. The thulls and sendars were then able to catch up with the cleaning, and the air felt a little fresher. It was quieter too, and it was then that Beldin came stomping down the stairs and stumbled towards the sulking Belgarath. He had a tankard in one gnarled hand and a big sack of beans in the other. In one fluid motion, he threw the sack so that it slammed violently against the wall right next to Belgarath, and then he buried the tankard into the open barrel of ale.
"You almost hit me!" Belgarath snapped tartly as the dwarf hopped to sit in the sack, already taking a deep gulp of the foamy ale. "And go find your own ale!"
"Want to fight for it?" Beldin snarled the challenge with such ferocity that Belgarath actually flinched back and brought up his arms to shield his face from what would potentially be a very painful punch of a massive gnarled fist. "Thought so." Beldin sneered, leaning back against the wall. "You are a sissy, Belgarath. You should know better than to try to pick a fight with me."
"Yeah, and an ass too. What crawled up your butt? You've been sitting here, hogging all the ale and glaring at everything that moves for almost a week now."
"I just don't get it." Belgarath blurted out. Truthfully, he had been yearning for the chance to talk to Beldin, and he was a bit offended that it had taken the deformed sorcerer so long to confront him. "Why call him 'The Man with Two Lives' if he was going to die and stay dead?!"
"What do you mean 'and stay dead'? What, you thought they were going to bring him back to life or something?"
"Why the name, then? Why not call him 'The Doomed One' or the 'Sacrificial Goat', or some other nonsense!"
"Stop screaming." Beldin grumbled in an uncharacteristic mellow tone. "Pol's going to hear you."
Belgarath clamped his mouth shut. After a moment, he sank his tankard into the barrell and took a deep gulp. He hated it when things didn't make sense. He just knew that they were missing something. The Prophecy never did anything just because. It was obscure, but never senseless. It was driving him crazy with frustration that the momentous chain of events they had just crawled through had not shakened anything new from the codexes. At least not for the Twins anyway. Maybe there were clues in there that only he was meant to find. Or maybe Pol…
"Maybe his second life has nothing to do with us." Beldin stated calmly.
"You said the gods took his body with them. Last time..." Beldin stopped briefly. " You do know that the Master took Poledra's body with him. And we know she's still around...somewhat. We know Pol talks to her from time to time. Maybe Durnik's meant to be another messenger for the gods. An angel, as the dalls calls them."
Belgarath's scowl relaxed slightly. The theory had some merit. It answered most of the questions that had been tormenting him for days. And such a fate would also be consistent with the pattern of behavior that the Prophecy always seemed to follow, a pattern that Durnik's graceless death had broken. Being an angel- a messenger of the gods- could certainly be considered a reward. For what little they knew about them, they were demigods, and they enjoyed the best of what the world of humans and the world of the gods could offer...
Abscently, he buried his tankard back into the barrel.
"Should you be drinking so much…?"
"Probably not." Belgarath grumbled and took a deep gulp.
"She'll get over it, you know." His ugly little brother assured him. "She's strong. And she's smart. We just….we give her a shoulder to cry on and we wait...Maybe I should just take her with me to the Vale. A good long flight will make her feel better."
"No. She is staying in the ground until I'm certain any suicidal ideas are out of her head."
"I don't know if she's the type to do something like that, Belgarath. She's too stubborn for it."
"I'll rather not risk it." Belgarath dropped the half-filled tankard into the barrell and stood up. He knocked on the small door of the compartment. "Pol, I will go get us something to eat. Be up when I come back." He turned to Beldin. "Keep an eye on her."
"Kinda hard with a door in between."
"Oh, you know what I mean!" He snapped tartly, storming towards the stairs.
Polgara's eyes remained fixed in the flickering fingers of light that filtered through the boards of the deck. She wanted to snap at them to shut up, and to leave her alone, but no sound came out of her mouth. She felt sick, and everything hurt. But the worst pain was still in her chest. It had never hurt this badly. It was as if a bug had latched to her heart and was eating it, bit by bit, growing bigger and bigger, coiling tendrils around her lungs and squeezing them tighter and tighter.
The thought of that door opening, of light bursting through the blanket of darkness shielding her from the outside world, of all the people out there that needed her attention, of all the things left to do, it filled her with a sudden maddening terror. It was a matter of time before the cycle started all over again. To love, to watch, to loose.
"Bore's just a few miles ahead!" Someone roared upstairs. "Get that little girl inside!"
Polgara started breathing in short small gasps, and plaintive animalistic whimpers rumbled in her throat. A familiar voice spoke in her head. It sounded alarmed, but she couldn't understand it, or recognize it. She didn't want to. She didn't want to hear another sound, or see another face...She wanted it all over...
The darkness was cut by a white flare. The white lock on her hair blazed as Polgara gathered her Will….
Belgarath was waiting for the burly sendar in charge of the supplies to finish preparing him a set of meals when chaos erupted around him. The seagulls and the one albatros that had been flying around the ship as it glided by islands and the coasts of sendaria exploded in a chorus of hysterical squawking and screeching. They swooped over the head of the sailors, pecked at the ropes hanging from the masts and at the sails.
"Knock it off!" Greldick snarled explosively. A seagull perched on his head, and its feet got tangled with the mess of his hair. He seized it with his massive hand, yanked him off and threw it overboard. In the same motion, he picked a bucket of water and threw it in the air to disperse the flock that was attacking the mast. The birds dispersed briefly, and the projectile smashed against the face of the sailor who had been trying to hack them up with a sword. "What the hell's up with these birds!"
"Belgarath!" Silk cried out as he ran towards the sorcerer, shielding his head with his arms. "Can't you do something? You talk to things! Talk to them! Tell them we aren't a whale, or a garbage pile!"
Belgarath opened his mouth to speak when the amulet resting against his skin began to burn his flesh. He grasped it with a crisped hand even as he bolted for the stairs that led below deck, a sudden realization hitting him with the force of a blow.
The silver amulets were a gift of Aldur. When the god had first come to Belgarath to command their making, the sorcerer hadn't really understood why it was so important. It was in following years that he understood their power. It was of a passive nature, and could heightened the focus-and force-of their Will if it was canalized through the amulets. Most importantly, they linked the bearers, merging their hearts, and minds and souls into one powerful unity. And now, something was trying to break that unity, and Belgarath merged into it with sudden fright.
Fear and confusion came from the Tree and the Sword. It was the Owl, and it was thrashing, clawing and biting, struggling to break free. Even as he shielded the other two, Belgarath reached out to smother the burning Will of Polgara as it attempted to set itself aflame. He was much stronger, but she had the momentum. She had sneaked passed him, and was held back by tatters...
Belgarath quickly changed tactics, and stopped pushing to try and encompass it instead...but even as he did, the ugly evil voice of reason noted that it was too late. The image of the ship exploding in a storm of fire and splinters as his daughter willed herself into nothingness flamed through his head. It was a distraction that lasted a second, but that was just enough for the contending Wills to grow inexorably apart, and Belgarath screamed in despairing fury as that terrifying image seemed about to become a reality.
But then, the Sword surged forward, engulfing them both in a blinding all encompassing light. It felt as if it should hurt...but it didn't. Belgarath sensed only that blazing light and distantly, a murmuring melody that was impossible to identify. And then, he was on his knees, trembling and covered in a cold sweat. The melody had banished and the sound of men cursing and spitting, and of the birds, now yowling in subdued tones, slowly came back to him.
He blinked as Garion bolted passed him and jumped down the hole that led below deck. Ce'Nedra was running close behind him, sounding scared as she called out his name. Belgarath swallowed, recovering his grounding on reality.
"Belgarath…?" Barak's voice rumbled behind him.
"What happened?" Silk's voice sounded a bit breathless. "Are you okay?"
"Ancient one. Take mine hand and support thyself unto me."
Belgarath took the armored gauntlet offered to him and Mandorallen pulled him up to his feet. His legs were trembling badly, and for a moment, he was forced to support himself against the armored knight. A few moments passed, and he was able to hold himself. He marched towards the stairs.
Below deck, Belgarath saw Beldin standing by the compartment door. It had been smashed in. As he approached, he saw that the dwarf was pale and trembling. Inside, Garion was holding Polgara in a tight hug as she wept in his arms, his own body shakened by throaty sobs.
"Give them a moment before you start yelling." Beldin grumbled.
"I thought you were going to keep an eye on her." Belgarath snapped at him.
"I didn't hear a thing until it was too late." Beldin sputtered. "Better put a bell on it somehow!"
Belgarath clenched his teeth, reaching out for the amulet hanging from his neck. Apparently, he already had.