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Guardians of the West

Guardians of the West: Page 56

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He handed the young officer the folded and sealed letter to the Sendarian king. "When you see King Fulrach, tell him that I've sent Lord Hettar of Algaria to all of the Alorn Kings to tell them that I'm calling a meeting of the Alorn Council at Riva and that I'd like to have him there as well."

"Yes, your Majesty."

"And tell him that the Rivan Warder has been murdered."

Bledik's eyes widened, and his face went pale. "No!" he gasped. "Who was responsible?"

"I don't know any of the details yet, but, as soon as we can hire a ship, we're going across to the island."

"Garion, dear," Polgara said from her chair by the window, "you explained everything in the letter. The lieutenant has a long way to go, and you're delaying him."

"You're probably right, Aunt Pol," he admitted. He turned back to Bledik. "Will you need any money or anything?" he asked.

"No, your Majesty."

"You'd better get started then."

"At once, your Majesty." The lieutenant saluted and went out.

Garion began to pace up and down on the costly Mallorean carpet while Polgara, dressed in a plain blue traveling gown, continued to mend one of Errand's tunics, her needle flashing in the sunlight streaming through the window." How can you be so calm?" he demanded of her.

"I'm not, dear," she replied. "That's why I'm sewing."

"What's taking them so long?" he fretted.

"Hiring a ship takes time, Garion. It's not exactly like buying a loaf of bread."

"Who could possibly have wanted to hurt Brand?" he burst out. He had asked that same question over and over in the week or more since they had left the Vale. The big, sad-faced Warder had been so totally devoted to Garion and the Rivan Throne that he had possessed virtually no separate identity. So far as Garion knew, Brand had not had an enemy in the world.

"That's one of the first things we'll want to find out when we get to Riva," she said. "Now please try to calm yourself. Pacing about doesn't accomplish anything and it's very distracting."

It was almost evening when Belgarath, Durnik, and Errand returned, bringing with them a tall, gray-haired Rivan whose clothing carried those distinctive smells of salt-water and tar that identified him as a sailor.

"This is Captain Jandra," Belgarath introduced him. "He's agreed to ferry us across to the Isle."

"Thank you, Captain," Garion said simply.

"My pleasure, your Majesty." Jandra replied with a stiff bow.

"Have you just come in from Riva?" Polgara asked him.

"Yesterday afternoon, my Lady."

"Have you any idea at all about what happened there?"

"We didn't get too many details down at the harbor, my Lady. Sometimes the people up at the Citadel are sort of secretive -no offense, your Majesty. There are all kinds of rumors going about the city, though -most of them pretty farfetched. About all I can say for certain is that the Warder was attacked and killed by a group of Chereks.

"Chereks!" Garion exclaimed.

"Everyone agrees on that point, your Majesty. Some people say that all the assassins were killed. Others say that there were some survivors. I couldn't really say for sure, but I know that they did bury six of them."

"Good," Belgarath grunted.

"Not if there were only six to begin with, father," Polgara told him. "We need answers, not bodies."

"Uh -pardon me, your Majesty." Jandra said a little uncomfortably. "It might not be my place to say this, but some of the rumors in the city say that the Chereks were officials of some kind from Val Alorn and that they were sent by King Anheg."

"Anheg? That's absurd."

"That's what some people are saying, your Majesty. I don't put much stock in it myself, but it might just be the kind of talk you wouldn't want going much further. The Warder was well-liked in Riva, and a lot of people have taken to polishing their swords -if you take my meaning."

"I think I'd better get home as soon as possible," Garion said. "How long will it take us to get to Riva?"

The captain thought it over. "My ship isn't as fast as a Cherek warship," he apologized. "Let's say three days -if the weather holds. We can leave on the morning tide, if you can be ready."

"We'll do that, then," Garion said.

It was late summer on the Sea of the Winds, and the weather held clear and sunny. Jandra's ship plowed steadily through the sparkling, sun-touched waves, heeling to one side under a quartering wind.
Garion spent most of the voyage pacing moodily up and down the deck. When, on the third day out from Camaar, the jagged shape of the Isle of the Winds appeared low on the horizon ahead, a kind of desperate impatience came over him. There were so many questions that had to be answered and so many things that had to be done that even the hour or so that it would take to reach the harbor seemed an intolerable delay.

It was midafternoon when Jandra's ship rounded the headland at the harbor mouth and made for the stone quays at the foot of the city. "I'm going on ahead," Garion told the others. "Follow me as soon as you can." And even as the sailors were making fast the hawsers, he leaped across to the salt-crusted stones of the quay and started up toward the Citadel, taking the steps two at a time.

Ce'Nedra was waiting for him at the massive main doors of the Citadel, garbed in a black mourning dress. Her face was pale, and her eyes full of tears. "Oh, Garion," she cried as he reached her. She threw her arms about his neck and began to sob against his chest.

"How long ago did it happen, Ce'Nedra?" he asked, holding her in his arms. "Hettar didn't have too many details."

"It was about three weeks ago," she sobbed. "Poor Brand. That poor, dear man."

"Do you know where I can find Kail?"

"He's been working at Brand's desk," she replied. "I don't think he's slept for more than a few hours any night since it happened."

"Aunt Pol and the others should be along shortly. I'm going to talk with Kail. Would you bring them as soon as they get here?"

"Of course, dear." she replied, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

"We'll talk later," he said. "Right now I've got to find out what happened."

"Garion," she said gravely, "they were Chereks."

"That's what I'd heard," he said, "and that's why I've got to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible."

The corridors of the Citadel were muted and oddly silent. As Garion strode toward that group of rooms in the west wing from which Brand had always conducted the day-to-day business of the kingdom, the servants and functionaries he encountered bowed soberly and stood aside for him.

Kail was dressed in deepest black, and his face was gray with fatigue and deep sorrow. The orderly stacks of documents on the top of Brand's heavy desk, however, gave evidence that despite his grief he had been working not only at his own duties but at his father's as well. He looked up as Garion entered the room and started to rise.

"Don't," Garion said. "We have too much to do for formalities." He looked at his weary friend. "I'm sorry, Kail," he said sadly. "I'm more sorry than I can possibly tell you."

"Thank you, your Majesty."

Garion sank into the chair across the desk from him, his own weariness coming over him in a wave. "I haven't been able to get any details," he said. "Could you tell me exactly what happened?"

Kail nodded and leaned back in his chair. "It was about a month ago," he began, "not long after you left for Drasnia. A trade deputation from King Anheg arrived. All their credentials seemed to be in order, but they were a bit vague about exactly what the purpose of their visit was. We extended them the customary courtesies, and most of the time they stayed in the rooms we assigned them. Then, late one night, my father had been discussing some matters with Queen Ce'Nedra and was on his way back to his own quarters when he encountered them in the corridor leading to the royal apartments. He asked if he could help them, and they attacked him without any warning whatsoever." Kail stopped, and Garion could see his jaws tightly clenched. He drew in a deep breath -and passed one weary hand across his eyes. "Your Majesty, my father wasn't even armed. He did his best to defend himself, and he was able to call for help before they cut him down. My brothers and I ran to his aid along with several of the Citadel guards -and we all did our best to capture the assassins, but they absolutely refused to surrender." He frowned. "It was almost as if they were deliberately throwing their lives away. We had no choice but to kill them."

"All of them?" Garion asked with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"All but one," Kail replied. "My brother, Brin, hit him across the back of the head with the butt of an axe. He's been unconscious ever since."

"Aunt Pol's with me," Garion said. "She'll wake him -if anybody can." His face went bleak. "And when he does wake up, he and I are going to have a little talk."

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