‘I’m cleaning house, Alleran,’ I told him, ‘and it’s a very messy house. I’m not going to leave patches of dust in the corners just for old times sake.’
I could see from all the blank looks that what I was saying was going completely over – or through – their heads. ‘Oh, dear,’ I sighed. ‘All right then, let me put it this way. Last summer, the three of you saw fit to elevate me to a status of equality with you. Isn’t that what you had in mind?’
‘Well –’ Alleran said dubiously, ‘I guess so.’
‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that mean that the Duchy of Erat is mine – totally?’
‘That was our intent, your Grace,’ Corrolin conceded.
‘Isn’t he a nice boy?’ I said to the other two. ‘Now, then, since the Duchy of Erat belongs to me – absolutely – I can do anything I want to do up there, can’t I? And none of you – either singly or all together – can do anything at all to interfere with me, can you?’
‘There are rules and customs, Aunt Pol,’ Alleran protested.
‘Yes, I know – bad rules and bad customs. That’s part of the dust and debris I’m scrubbing out of the corners.’ I looked sternly at the Duke of Astur. ‘Tell them what happened when you abducted little Kathandrion, Nerasin,’ I said. ‘Describe it in great detail – and if you’ve forgotten, I can always do it again – just to refresh your memory.’ Then I included them all in my warning. ‘If you gentlemen don’t like what I’m doing inside my own borders, that’s just too bad. And if it really upsets you, feel free to declare war on me at any time. I’ll tell you this, however, the first one of you who invades my realm is going to get very, very sick. I won’t maim your knights, or slaughter your foot-soldiers, or ride across your borders to burn the villages of your serfs. I’ll take your actions personally, and my retaliation will be directed at you – personally. If you choose to attack me, I’ll build fires in your own personal bellies. What I do on my own lands is my business. Now then, I’m very busy this summer, so what have we got on this year’s agenda? Let’s get to work here.’
Does that leave any doubts in anyone’s mind about just who was running things in Arendia in those days?
Killane returned to Vo Wacune in mid-autumn. ‘Th’ weather’s goin’ t’ pot up there, Lady-O,’ he reported. ‘I paid off th’ buildin’ crew an’ told ‘em all t’ come back in th’ spring. If we tromp around durin’ th’ rainy season, about all we’ll manage t’ do is t’ turn yer beautiful meadow into a mud-bog, don’t y’ know, an’ I’m after thinkin’ y’ wouldn’t like that too much. I left a couple o’ min t’ guard th’ place.’
‘Very efficient, Killane,’ I agreed. I knew exactly how much progress he’d made – I had looked things over, after all – but I let him give me glowing, though slightly exaggerated, descriptions of what had been accomplished so far.
Then he looked around at the heaps of law books piled in my library. ‘An’ what’s all this?’ he asked curiously.
‘I’m setting up laws, Killane,’ I replied wearily. ‘It’s very tedious.’
‘Yer whims an’ wishes are th’ law, yer Grace.’
‘Not when I finish with this, they won’t be. I’m trying to reconcile the best of the major legal systems in the world here – mostly Tolnedran and Melcene, but with just a sprinkling of Alorn, Nyissan, and even Marag statutes thrown in to season it all. I even found a couple of ideas in Angarak legal practices that might be useful.’
‘What’s th’ point o’ strainin’ yer pretty head w’ all that dusty nonsense, me Lady?’
‘The point is justice, Killane. That’s the ultimate point of any system of law.’ I gestured at the stacks of books. There are a lot of weeds in this garden, but I’ll get them all pulled out so that the beds are ready for the roses.’
Killane completed the work on my manor house in the late summer of 2330, not too long after Duke Corrolin of Mimbre died, and, properly escorted this time, he and I journeyed north so that I could have a look at my seat of power. I’d seen it from the air on several occasions, of course, but an overhead survey doesn’t really convey the impact of a building when you see it from ground level. The house stood on a rise near the north bank of the river that fed the lake, so water was accessible; and a graveled path led from my back door down to a stone wharf jutting out into the river, so deliveries would be convenient. The meadow which had first attracted my attention ran on down about a quarter mile to the lake-front to the west, and as I’d envisioned, the encircling wooded hills with the snow-capped mountains lying to the east made it all just perfect.
Am I going on too much about my house? Well, that’s just too bad, isn’t it? I love that house, and if I want to talk about it, I will.
The house itself was a dream in snowy marble. Killane had quite obviously taken quite a few liberties with the dimensions indicated on the detailed plans we’d agreed upon. I’d assumed that there were some finite limits implicit in the amount of money I’d given him for the construction, but Killane’s skills at bargaining had given him plenty of elbow-room. His introduction of the concept of competitive bidding had definitely had an impact on costs, so he more than gave me my money’s worth. The central building was several stories tall, and it was fronted by a columned portico that had a Tolnedran sort of effect. Curved wings extended out from either side of the main hall to embrace a formal garden with incipient hedges and unplanted flower-beds awaiting my attention.
The interior of the house was even more pleasing, if that’s possible. The rooms were large and well-lighted by tall windows. The kitchens were extensive, and the baths at the rear of the house could only be called luxurious. Since the place was totally devoid of furnishings or drapes, though, it echoed like the inside of an empty cave. It definitely needed carpeting and drapes.
‘I’ve taken th’ liberty o’ engagin’ a number o’ furniture-makers, yer Grace,’ Killane advised me. ‘I’ve set ‘em up in a shop adjoinin’ th’ stables out back. Y’ might want t’ give some consideration t’ decidin’ on one particular style o’ furniture fer th’ place. A house with a dozen different kinds o’ chairs an’ tables always looks sort o’ slap-dash, don’t y’ know.’