"Who could possibly do that?" she asked.

"I don't know, but I'm certainly going to find out."

The shrieking laughter, still fading, continued to echo up to where they stood. And then it ended abruptly far below.


A sudden summer storm had come howling in off the Great Western Sea two days after the fight on the cliffs and it raked the island with shrieking winds and sheets of rain that rattled against the windows of the council chamber high in the south tower. The bone-thin Javelin, who had arrived with the others aboard the Seabird that morning, slouched in his chair, looking out at the raging storm and thoughtfully tapping his fingers together. "Where did the trail finally lead?" he asked."Right down to the water's edge in a secluded cove," Garion replied.

"Then I think we'll have to assume that this abductor made a clean escape with the prince. The timing might have been a little tight, but the men aboard the ships that were patrolling the coast would have been concentrating on the shore line, and a ship that had gotten well out to sea before they arrived could have escaped their notice."

Barak was piling an armload of logs in the cavernous fireplace. "Why were those others left behind, then?" he asked. "That doesn't make any sense at all."

"We're talking about Bear-cultists, Barak," Silk told him. "They're not supposed to make sense."

"There's a certain logic to it, though," the Earl of Seline pointed out. "If what the cultist said before he died is true, this Ulfgar has declared war on Belgarion. Isn't it entirely possible that those men were left behind specifically to waylay him? One way or another, he was certain to follow that trail."

"There's still something that doesn't quite ring true." Javelin frowned. "Let me think about it for a bit."

"We can sort out their motives later," Garion said. "The important thing right now is to find out where they've taken my son."

"Rheon, most likely," Anheg said. "We've destroyed Jarviksholm. Rheon's the only strong point they've got left."

"That's not entirely certain, Anheg," Queen Porenn disagreed. "This scheme to abduct Prince Geran was obviously planned quite some time ago, and you destroyed Jarviksholm only last week. It's unlikely that the abductors even knew about it. I don't think we can rule out the possibility that the prince was taken to Cherek."

Anheg rose and began pacing up and down, a dark scowl on his face. "She's got a point," he admitted finally. "These child stealers were Chereks, after all. It's quite possible that they tried to take him to Jarviksholm, but when they found the city destroyed, they had to go someplace else. We could very well find them holed up in a fishing village somewhere on the west coast."

"What do we do now, then?" Garion asked helplessly.

"We split up," King Cho-Hag said quietly. "Anheg turns out all his forces, and they search every village and farm in Cherek. The rest of us go to Rheon and deal with those people there."

"There's only one difficulty with that," Anheg said. "A baby is a baby. How do my men recognize Garion's son if they do run across him?"

"That's no real problem, Anheg," Polgara told him from her chair by the fire where she sat sipping a cup of tea. "Show them your palm, Garion."

Garion held up his right hand to show the King of Cherek the silvery mark there.

"I'd almost forgotten that," Anheg grunted. "Does Prince Geran have the same mark?"

"All heirs to the Rivan Throne have that mark on their palms," she replied. "It's been that way since the birth of Iron-grip's first son."

"All right," Anheg said. "My men will know what to look for, but will the rest of you have enough men to take Rheon? With the Algar and Drasnian cultists there, Ulfgar's got quite an army."

General Brendig rose and went over to a large map tacked up on one of the walls. "If I leave immediately for Sendar, I can put together a sizeable army in a few days. A forced march could put us in Darine within a week."

"I'll have ships waiting there to ferry you and your men to Boktor, then," Anheg promised.

"And I'll go south and raise the clans," Hettar said. "We'll ride straight north to Rheon."

Garion was also peering at the map. "If Anheg's ships take me and my troops to Boktor, we can join with the Drasnian pikemen there and march toward Rheon from the west," he said. "Then the ships can go back to Darine and pick up Brendig."

"That would save some time," Brendig agreed.

"With the Rivans and Drasnians, you're going to have enough troops to encircle Rheon," Silk said. "You might not have enough men to take the city, but you will have enough to keep anybody from going in or out. Then all you have to do is sit and wait for Brendig and Hettar. Once they join you, you'll have an overwhelming force."

"It's a sound plan, Garion," Barak said approvingly.

Mandorallen stood up. "And when we arrive at this fortified city on the moors of eastern Drasnia, I will undertake with siege engines and diverse other means to weaken the walls so that we may more easily gain access when we make our final assault," he noted. "Rheon will fall, and we will bring this miscreant Ulfgar to swift and terrible justice."

"Not too swift, I hope," Hettar murmured. "I was thinking along the lines of something more lingering."

"We'll have time to think about that after we catch him," Barak said.

The door opened, and Ce'Nedra, pale and wan-looking and accompanied by Queen Layla and the other ladies, entered. "Why are you all still here?" she demanded. "Why aren't you taking the world apart to find my baby?"

"That's hardly fair, Ce'Nedra," Garion chided her gently.

"I'm not trying to be fair. I want my baby."

"So do I, but we're not going to accomplish much by dashing around in circles, are we?"

"I'll raise an army myself, if I have to," she declared hotly. "I did it before and I can certainly do it again."

"And just where would you take them, dear?" Polgara asked her.

"Wherever it is that they've got my baby."

"And where is that? If you know something that we don't, shouldn't you share it with us?"

Ce'Nedra stared at her helplessly, her eyes filling with tears.

Belgarath had not contributed anything to the discussions, but rather had sat brooding out at the storm from a deep-cushioned chair by the window. "I've got the feeling that I'm missing something," he muttered as Adara and Nerina led the distraught Ce'Nedra to a chair near the council table.