Later, he leaned against the railing with his tankard in hand, watching the darting lights of the fireflies and listening to the endless chorus of the frogs. It was a warm spring night, and the damp, rich odor of the fens filled his nostrils.
He heard a faint splash, a fish maybe, or perhaps a diving otter.
"Belgarion?" It was a strange, piping kind of voice, but it was quite distinct. It was also coming from the other side of the railing.
Garion peered out into the velvet darkness.
"Belgarion?" The voice came again. It was somewhere below him.
"Yes?" Garion answered cautiously.
"I need to tell you something." There was another small splash, and the ship rocked slightly. The hawser that moored her to the snag dipped, and a scampering shadow ran quickly up it and slid over the railing in a curiously fluid way. The shadow stood up, and Garion could clearly hear the water dripping from it. The figure was short, scarcely more than four feet tall, and it moved toward Garion with a peculiarly shuffling gait.
"You are older," it said.
"That happens," Garion replied, peering at the form as he tried to make out its face. Then the moon slid out from behind a cloud, and Garion found himself staring directly into the furry, wide-eyed face of a fenling. "Tupik?" he asked incredulously. "Is that you?"
"You remember." The small, furry creature seemed pleased.
"Of course I remember."
The ship rocked again, and another furry shadow ran up the hawser. Tupik turned with irritation. "Poppi!" he chittered angrily. "Go home!"
"No," she answered quite calmly.
"You must do as I say!" he told her, stamping his feet on the deck.
Tupik stared at her in obvious frustration. " Are they all like that?" he demanded of Garion.
"Females." Tupik said the word with a certain disgust.
"Most of them, yes."
"How is Vordai?" Garion asked them.
Poppi made a peculiarly disconsolate whimpering sound. "Our mother is gone," she said sadly.
"She was very tired," Tupik said.
"We covered her with flowers," Poppi said. "And then we closed up her house."
"She would have liked that."
"She said that one day you would come back," Tupik told him. "She was very wise."
"She said that we should wait until you came and then we were to give you a message."
"There is an evil that moves against you."
"I was beginning to suspect that."
"Mother said to tell you that the evil has many faces and that the faces do not always agree, but that which is behind it all has no face and that it comes from much farther than you think."
"I don't quite follow."
"It is from beyond the stars."
Garion stared at him.
"That is what we were told to say," Poppi assured him.
"Tupik said it exactly as mother told it to him."
"Tell Belgarath about mother." Tupik said then. "And tell him that she sent him her thanks."
"Good-bye, Belgarion," the fenling said. Poppi made a small, affectionate sound in her throat, pattered over, and nuzzled briefly at Garion's hand.
And then the two of them slipped over the side and vanished in the dark waters of the fens.
It was a dreary-looking place. The village huddled on the riverbank at the edge of a flat, featureless plain covered with coarse, dark-green grass. The underlying soil was alluvial clay, slick, gray, and unwholesome looking, and just beyond the wide bend in the Mrin River lay the endless green and brown expanse of the fens. The village itself consisted of perhaps two dozen dun-colored houses, huddled all together about the square stone structure of the shrine. Rickety docks, constructed of bone-white driftwood, stuck out into the river like skeletal fingers, and fishing nets hung on poles, drying and smelling in the humid, mosquito-infested air.Garion's ship arrived about noon, and he went immediately up from the creaking dock along the muddy, rutted street to the shrine itself, walking carefully to avoid slipping, and feeling the curious stares of the dull-eyed villagers directed at him and at the great sword of the Rivan King strapped to his back.
The priests of Belar who guarded the shrine were obsequious, almost fawning, when he arrived at the tarnished bronze gates and requested entry. They led him through a flagstone-covered courtyard, pointing proudly at the rotting kennel and the stout, tar-smeared post with its fragment of heavy, rusting chain where the mad prophet of Mrin had spent his last days.
Within the shrine itself stood the customary altar with its great carved-stone bear-head. Garion noted that the interior of the shrine stood in need of a good cleaning and that the priest-guardians themselves were rumpled and unwashed.
One of the first manifestations of religious enthusiasm, he had noted, was a powerful aversion to soap and water. Holy places -and those who attended them- always seemed to smell bad.
There was some small problem when they reached the vaulted sanctorum where the yellowed parchment scroll of the original Mrin Codex lay in its crystal case with two manhigh candles flanking it. One of the priests, a wild-eyed fanatic whose hair and beard resembled a wind-ravaged straw-stack, objected shrilly -almost hysterically- when Garion politely requested that the case be opened. The ranking priest, however, was enough of a politician to recognize the pre-eminent claim of the Rivan King -particularly since he bore Aldur's Orb- to examine any holy object he pleased.
Garion realized once again that, in a peculiar way, he himself was a holy object in the minds of many Alorns.
The fanatic at last retreated, muttering the word "blasphemy', over and over again. The crystal case was opened with a rusty iron key, and a small table and chair were brought into the circle of candlelight so that Garion might examine the Codex.
"I think I can manage now, your Reverences," he told them rather pointedly. He did not like having people read over his shoulder and he felt no particular need of company. He sat at the table, put his hand on the scroll, and looked directly at the little clot of priests. "I'll call if I need anything," he added.
Their expressions were disapproving, but the overpowering presence of the Rivan King made them too timid to protest his peremptory dismissal; they quietly filed out, leaving him alone with the scroll.
Garion was excited. The solution to the problem that had plagued him for all these months lay at last in his hands. With nervous fingers, he untied the silken cord and began to unroll the crackling parchment. The script was archaic, but gorgeously done. The individual letters had not so much been written as they had been meticulously drawn. He perceived almost at once that an entire lifetime had been devoted to the production of this single manuscript. His hands actually trembling with his eagerness, Garion carefully unrolled the scroll, his eyes running over the now-familiar words and phrases, searching for the line that would once and for all clear up the mystery.