The meeting of the Arendish Council in 2940 was placid, even tedious. Duke Moratham slept through most of it, and there wasn’t really anything exciting enough going on to wake him. I’d have probably suggested a regency, but Moratham’s only surviving son was quite obviously unfit to rule. He took his privileges very seriously, but gave little thought to his responsibilities.
It was after Ontrose and I had returned to Vo Wacune that my father stopped by to see how I was doing.
I was in my rose-garden when my maid escorted him out to see me. Knowing my father as I do, I’m fairly sure that he’d snooped about a few times in the two centuries or so since I’d last actually seen him, but he’d evidently not found anything to complain about, so he’d left me alone. ‘Well, Old Wolf,’ I greeted him, ‘what have you been up to?’
‘Not too much, Pol,’ he replied.
‘Is the world still all in one piece?’
He shrugged. ‘More or less. I had to patch it a few times, but there haven’t been any major disasters.’
I carefully cut one of my favorite roses and held it up for him to see. ‘Would you look at this?’ I said.
He hardly even glanced at it. ‘Very nice,’ he said indifferently. Father doesn’t really have much of an eye for beauty.
‘Very nice? That’s all you can say? It’s absolutely gorgeous, father. Ontrose developed it just for me.’
‘He’s my champion, father. He rights wrongs for me, and he chastises anybody who insults me. You’d be amazed at how polite people are to me when he’s around.’ Then I decided to stop beating about the bush. ‘Oh, incidentally, he’s also the man I’m going to marry – just as soon as he gets up the nerve to ask me.’
Father’s face grew wary at that point. He knew me well enough not to come down on the wrong side of me. ‘Interesting idea, Pol,’ he said blandly. ‘Why don’t you send him around so that he and I can get to know each other?’
‘You don’t approve,’ I accused.
‘I didn’t say that, Pol. I just said that I don’t know him. If you’re serious about this, he and I ought to have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other. Have you thought your way completely through this, though? There could be some fairly serious drawbacks, you know.’
‘Such as what?’
‘I’d imagine that there’s quite a difference in your ages, for one thing. How old would you say he is?’
‘He’s grown up, father. He’s over thirty.’
‘That’s nice, but you’re about nine hundred and fifty, aren’t you?’
‘Nine hundred and forty, actually. So what?’
He sighed. ‘You’ll outlive him, Pol. He’ll be old before you’ve turned around twice.’
‘But I’ll be happy, father – or aren’t I supposed to have any happiness?’
‘I was just pointing it out, that’s all. Were you planning to have any children?’
‘That’s not really a very good idea, you know. Your children will grow up, get old, and die. You won’t. You’ll go through the same thing you went through when Beldaran died, and that very nearly killed you, as I recall.’
‘Maybe when I get married, my life will become normal. Maybe I’ll grow old, too.’
‘I wouldn’t count on it, Pol. The Mrin Codex has a lot to say about you and what you’ll be doing on down the road.’
‘I’m not going to base my life on the ravings of an idiot, father. Besides, you got married, didn’t you? If it was all right for you, it’s certainly all right for me.’ I deliberately glossed over mother’s peculiarities. ‘Besides, if Ontrose marries me, his life-span might be extended as well.’
‘Why should it? He’s ordinary, and you’re not. His life might seem longer, though. You’re not the easiest person in the world to get along with. Unless this Ontrose fellow’s a saint, he’s probably going to have more than his share of bad days.’
‘Why don’t you just keep your nose out of my affairs, Old Man?’
‘Please, Pol. Don’t throw the word “affair” around like that. In this particular case it makes me very nervous.’
‘You know where the gate is, father. Use it – now.’
And that more or less ended the conversation.
The Privy Council of Duke Andrion of Wacune met in an airy room high in one of the towers of the palace one glowing afternoon. Our conference-room was carpeted and draped in a deep maroon, which contrasted nicely with the marble walls, and the massive furniture added that touch of permanence. ‘Our alternatives, it seemeth to me, do grow more scant with the passage of time,’ Duke Andrion said glumly to the rest of us. Duke Andrion was a dark-haired man in his mid-thirties, and he’d only recently ascended to the seat of power in Wacune. My presence at a Privy Council meeting in Vo Wacune might seem a bit odd, but I’d seen to it years ago that I was a member of all four Privy Councils in Arendia. I wanted to make sure that no Arendish duke did anything significant without my permission.
‘Truly, your Grace,’ Ontrose agreed with his duke. The Oriman family hath been bent on our destruction for years. I do fear me that war is inevitable.’
‘There are alternatives, my Lords,’ I told them quite firmly. ‘Nerasin was at least as great a scoundrel as this endless succession of Garteons, and we managed to bring him to his senses.’
‘The Oriman family hath no more sense than honor, Lady Polgara,’ Baron Lathan asserted. Lathan appeared to have recovered from his defeat at the hands of Ontrose during the tournament, and they were friends again. ‘It seemeth to me that Asturia must once again be subdued if the peace is to be kept.’
‘Let’s avoid that if possible, my Lord Lathan,’ I suggested. ‘Let me go talk with Garteon before we start mobilizing armies. Wars are very hard on the budget.’
‘Oh, yes!’ Andrion agreed fervently.
Then I looked quickly at Ontrose. ‘No,’ I said firmly.
‘I fail to grasp thy meaning, your Grace,’ he confessed.
‘You can’t go along, Ontrose. I’m going to say some things to Garteon in language I’d rather you didn’t hear.’
‘I cannot permit thee to go unescorted, my Lady.’