"You found nothing at all, then?" Beldin asked.

Belgarath grunted. "There was one passage in the Oracles that said that the Dark God will come again."

Garion felt a sudden chill grip his stomach. "Torak?" he said. "Is that possible?"

"I suppose you could take it to mean that, but if that's what it really means, then why would Torak have gone to the trouble of destroying so many of the other passages? If the entire purpose of the Oracles was to predict his own return, I expect that he'd have been overjoyed to keep them intact."

"You're assuming that old burnt-face was rational," BeIdin growled. "I never noticed that quality in him very often."

"Oh, no," Belgarath disagreed. "Everything Torak did was perfectly rational -as long as you accepted his basic notion that he was the sole reason for creation. No, I think the passage means something else."

"Could you read any part of the Mallorean Gospels at father?" Aunt Pol asked him.

"Just one little fragment. It said something about a choice between the Light and the Dark."

Beldin snorted. "Now that would be something very unusual," he said. "The Seers at Kell haven't made a descision about anything since the world was made. They've been sitting on the fence for millennia."

Late the following afternoon, the Sendarian army came into view on the snowy hilltops to the west. Garion felt a peculiar twinge of pride as the solid, steady men he had always thought of as his countrymen marched purposefully through the snow toward the now-doomed city of Rheon.

"I might have gotten here sooner," General Brendig apologized as he rode up, "but we had to march around that quagmire where the Drasnian pikemen are bogged down."

"Are they all right?" Queen Porenn asked him quickly.

"Perfectly, your Majesty," the one-armed man replied. "They just can't go anywhere, that's all."

"How much rest will your troops need before they'll be ready to join the assault, Brendig?" Belgarath asked him.

Brendig shrugged. "A day ought to do it, Ancient One."

"That will give us time enough to make our plans," the old man said. "Let's get your men bivouacked and fed, and then Garion can brief you on the way things stand here."

In the strategy meeting in the garishly carpeted main tent that evening, they smoothed out the rough edges of their relatively simple plan of attack. Mandorallen's siege engines would continue to pound the city throughout the next day and on into the following night. On the next morning, a feigned assault would be mounted against the south gate to draw as many cultists as possible away from the hastily erected fortification inside the city. Another force would march out of the secure enclave in the north quarter of Rheon to begin the house-by-house occupation of the buildings facing the perimeter. Yet another force, acting on an inspired notion of General Brendig's, would use scaling ladders as bridges to go across the housetops and drop in behind the newly erected walls inside the city.

"The most important thing is to take Ulfgar alive," Garion cautioned. "We have to get some answers from him. I need to know just what part he played in the abduction of my son and where Geran is, if he knows."

"And I want to know just how many of the officers in my army he's subverted," Queen Porenn added.

"It looks as if he's going to be doing a lot of talking," Yarblek said with an evil grin. "In Gar og Nadrak we have a number of very entertaining ways of loosening people's tongues."

"Pol will handle that," Belgarath told him firmly. "She can get the answers we need without resorting to that sort of thing."

"Are you getting soft, Belgarath?" Barak asked.

"Not likely," the old man replied, "but if Yarblek here gets carried away, it might go a little too far, and you can't get answers out of a dead man."

"But afterward?" Yarblek asked eagerly.

"I don't really care what you do with him afterward."

The next day, Garion was in a small, curtained-off area in the main tent going over his maps and his carefully organized lists, trying to determine if there was anything he had overlooked. He had begun of late to feel as if the entire army were resting directly on his shoulders.

"Garion," Ce'Nedra said, entering his cubicle, "some friends have arrived."

He looked up.

"Brand's three sons," she told him, "and that glass blower Joran." Garion frowned. "What are they doing here?" he asked. "I told them all to stay at Riva."

They say that they've got something important to tell you."

He sighed. "You'd better have them come in, then."

Brand's three gray-cloaked sons and the serious-faced Joran entered and bowed. Their clothes were mud-spattered, and their faces weary. "We are not deliberately disobeying your orders, Belgarion," Kail assured him quickly, "but we discovered something very important that you have to know."

"Oh? What's that?"

" After you left Riva with the army, your Majesty," Kail's older brother Verdan explained, "we decided to go over the west coast of the island inch by inch. We thought there might be some clues that we overlooked in our first search."

"Besides," Brin added, "we didn't have anything else to do."

"Anyway," Verdan continued, "we finally found the ship those Chereks had used to come to the island."

Their ship?" Garion asked, suddenly sitting up. "I thought that whoever it was who abducted my son used it to get off the island."

Verdan shook his head. "The ship had been deliberately sunk, your Majesty. They filled it with rocks and then chopped holes in the bottom. We sailed right over it five times until a calm day when there wasn't any surf. It was lying on the bottom in about thirty feet of water."

"How did the abductor get off the island, then?"

"We had that same thought, Belgarion," Joran said. "It occurred to us that, in spite of everything, the abductor might still be on the Isle of the Winds. We started searching. That's when we found the shepherd."


"He'd been alone with his flock up in the meadows on the western side of the Isle," Kail explained. "He was completely unaware of what had happened in the city. Anyway, we asked him if he had seen anything unusual at about the time Prince Geran was taken from the Citadel, and he said that he had seen a ship sail into a cove on the West coast at about that time and that somebody carrying something wrapped in a blanket got on board. Then the ship put out to sea, leaving the others behind. Belgarion, it was the same cove where the trail the Orb was following ended."