Guardians of the West / Page 17

Page 17


"It's been going around lately," Garion replied dryly. "Almost everybody my age has come down with it."

"I've brought you some visitors," Greldik told him.

Grinning, Belgarath moved across the deck to the quayside railing with Durnik and Errand close behind him.

"Grandfather?" Garion's face was completely astonished. "What are you doing here? And Durnik -and Errand?"

"Actually it was your aunt's idea," Belgarath told him.

"Is Aunt Pol here, too?"

"Of course I am," Polgara replied calmly, emerging from the low-roofed cabin under the stern.

" Aunt Pol!" Garion exclaimed, looking dumfounded.

"Don't stare, Garion," she told him, adjusting the collar of her blue cloak. "It's impolite."

"But, why didn't you let me know you were coming? What are you all doing here?"

"Visiting, dear. People do that from time to time."

When they joined the young king on the quay, there were the usual embraces and handshakes and the long looks into each others' faces that go with reunions. Errand, however, was much more interested in something else. As they started the climb up through the gray city toward the Citadel brooding above it, he tugged once at Garion's sleeve. "Horse?" he asked.

Garion looked at him. "He's in the stables, Errand. He'll be happy to see you."

Errand smiled and nodded.

"Does he still talk that way?" Garion asked Durnik. "Just one word at a time like that? I thought -well-"

"Most of the time he speaks normally -for his age," Durnik replied, "but he's been thinking about the colt ever since we left the Vale and sometimes, when he gets excited, he slips back to the old way."

"He listens, though," Polgara added, "which is more than I can say about another boy when he was that age."

Garion laughed. "Was I really that difficult, Aunt Pol?"

"Not difficult, dear. You just didn't listen."

When they arrived at the Citadel, the Rivan Queen greeted them under the high, thick-walled arch of the front gate. Ce'Nedra was as exquisite as Errand remembered her. Her coppery-colored hair was caught at the back of her head by a pair of golden combs, and the ringlets tumbled down her back in a flaming cascade. Her green eyes were large. She was tiny, not much taller than Errand, but she was every inch a queen. She greeted them all regally, embracing Belgarath and Durnik and lightly kissing Polgara's cheek.

Then she held out both hands to Errand, and he took them in his and looked into her eyes. There was a barrier there, the faintest hint of the defensive tightening with which she kept the hurt away. She drew him to her and kissed him; even in that gesture, he could feel the unhappy tenseness that she was probably no longer even aware of. As she removed her soft lips from his cheek, Errand once again looked deeply into her eyes, letting all the love and hope and compassion he felt for her flow into his gaze. Then, without even thinking, he reached out his hand and gently touched her cheek. Her eyes went very wide, and her lip began to tremble. That faint touch of agate-hard defensiveness about her face began to crumble. Two great tears welled up in her eyes; then, with a brokenhearted wail, she turned and stumbled blindly, her arms outstretched. "Oh, Lady Polgara!" she cried.

Polgara calmly took the sobbing little queen in her arms and held her. She looked directly into Errand's face, however, and one of her eyebrows was raised questioningly. Errand returned her look and gave her a calm, answering nod.

"Well," Belgarath said, slightly embarrassed by Ce'Nedra's sudden weeping. He scratched at his beard and looked around the inner courtyard of the Citadel and the broad granite steps leading up to the massive door. "Have you got anything to drink handy?" he asked Garion.

Polgara, her arms still about the weeping Ce'Nedra, gave him a level look. "Isn't it a bit early, father?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't think so," he replied blandly. "A bit of ale helps to settle the stomach after a sea voyage."

"There's always some excuse, isn't there?"

"I can usually manage to think of something."

Errand spent the afternoon in the exercise yard at the rear of the royal stables. The chestnut-colored colt was not really a colt any more, but rather a full-grown young stallion. His dark coat was glossy , and his muscles rippled under that coat as he ran in a wide circle about the yard. The single white patch on his shoulder seemed almost incandescent in the bright sunlight.

The horse had known somehow that Errand was coming and had been restive and high-strung all morning. The stableman cautioned Errand about that. "Be careful of him," he said. "He's a bit flighty today for some reason."

"He'll be fine now," Errand said, calmly unlatching the door to the young horse's stall.

"I wouldn't go-" the stableman started sharply, half reaching out as if to pull the boy back, but Errand had already entered the stall with the wide-eyed animal. The horse snorted once and pranced nervously, his hooves thudding on the straw-covered floor. He stopped and stood quivering until Errand put out his hand and touched that bowed neck. Then everything was all right between them. Errand pushed the door of the stall open wider and, with the horse contentedly nuzzling at his shoulder, led the way out of the stable past the astonished groom.

For the time being, it was enough for the two of them just to be together -to share the bond which was between them and had somehow existed even before they had met and, in a peculiar way, even before either of them was born. There would be more later, but for now this was enough.

When the purple hue of evening began to creep up the eastern sky, Errand fed the horse, promised that he would come again the following day, and went back into the Citadel in search of his friends. He found them seated in a low-ceilinged dining hall. This room was smaller than the great main banquet hall and it was less formal. It was perhaps as close to being homey as any room in this bleak fortress could be.

"Did you have a pleasant afternoon?" Polgara asked him.

Errand nodded.

" And was the horse glad to see you?"

"Yes."

"And now you're hungry, I suppose?"

"Well-a little." He looked around the room, noting that the Rivan Queen was not present. "Where's Ce'Nedra?" he asked.

"She' s a little tired," Polgara replied. "She and I had a long talk this afternoon."

Errand looked at her and understood. Then he looked around again. "I really am sort of hungry," he told her.


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