‘Hast thou perchance assigned numbers to those sundry events, Pol?’ he asked.
‘Numbers of what?’
‘Of days, your Grace. When did Garteon’s fleet sail?’
‘Oh, now I understand. Garteon’s force left Vo Astur three days ago. My computations suggest that his fleet will be at sea for eleven days – that’s eight days from now. Halbren should arrive at Seline in seven days. Assuming that it’ll take a day for the Asturians to march to Seline, we’ll see him outside the city walls on the twelfth day. Lathan should arrive on the thirteenth day.’
‘And by the fifteenth day, Garteon’s army shall be no more,’ my champion added grimly. ‘Thy strategy is masterly, beloved.’
‘Better even than that, it appears,’ I said with a warm glow surging through my veins.
‘I do fear me that I do not take thy meaning, Pol,’ he confessed.
‘I’m not talking about this incidental war, my dear,’ I said rather smugly. ‘That “beloved” that just escaped you had some strong overtones of surrender to it. Why don’t we adjourn to some more suitable place and discuss that at greater length?’
You can’t get much more obvious than that, I suppose.
He kissed me gently at that point, and I’ll confess that I very nearly swooned right there in his arms. Then, with a look of towering nobility, he tenderly disengaged my arms from about his neck. “The current crisis hath, it seemeth to me, excited us both beyond that which is seemly and proper, dearest Polgara,’ he said with a certain regret. ‘Let us not fall prey to heightened emotions engendered by the prospect of war. I will to horse now to remove myself from this dangerous proximity unto thee. I must to Seline to prepare our defense, and the cool night air might serve to moderate the unseemly heat which doth inflame my blood. Farewell, beloved. Let us address this matter further anon.’
And then he turned and left the room.
‘Ontrose!’ I screamed after him. ‘You come back here!’
And would you believe that he ignored me?
The room in which I stood was my own library, and many of the things there were precious to me. I left the room rather quickly and marched down the hall to the kitchen, where I began hurling things at the wall.
Malon Killaneson, my seneschal, came running. ‘Yer Grace!’ he exclaimed, ‘Whatever are y’ doin’?’
‘I’m breaking dishes, Malon!’ I shouted back at him. ‘You’d better get out of here, because I’m just about ready to start on people!’
The following morning, after a sleepless night, I went falcon again. I strongly resisted my impulse to chase Ontrose down and drag him off his horse. I flew south instead. I definitely needed some exercise about then, and Duke Andrion really should be kept advised, I supposed.
I found Andrion on the city walls, and he was dressed in full armor. I flared my wings, swooped over to a concealed spot behind a jutting buttress, and resumed my own form. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I try not to do that in the presence of others. I hadn’t examined Andrion recently, so I wasn’t entirely sure that his heart was still sound. Then I came out from behind the buttress. ‘Good morning, Andrion,’ I greeted him.
He looked startled. ‘I had thought that it had been thine intention to go north, Polgara. What hath delayed thee?’
‘I’ve already been north, Andrion,’ I told him. ‘General Halbren’s on the march, and Count Ontrose is going on ahead to Seline. Everything’s moving according to schedule. When Garteon reaches Seline, we’ll be ready for him. What are you doing in that silly armor?’
‘It seemeth to me that thou art out of sorts this morning, Polgara.’
‘Probably something I ate. What are you doing?’
‘Posing, Pol, just posing. With both Lathan and Ontrose elsewhere occupied, the command of the local garrison hath winnowed down to me. I have garbed myself in armor, and I do posture and gesticulate here atop the battlements to reassure the citizens of Vo Wacune that they have little to fear with so mighty a warrior standing ‘twixt them and the foul Asturians.’
‘And it’s fun, too, isn’t it?’
‘Well–’ He said it a bit deprecatingly, and we both laughed.
‘Let us return to the palace, Pol,’ he suggested. ‘Surely I have displayed myself enough for one morning, and I do not much care for the fragrance emanating from this suit of steel.’
‘We might do that,’ I agreed, ‘if you promise to walk on the downwind side.’
After we’d returned to the palace and Andrion had shed his steel, we went to his study to discuss the situation.
‘I know this may sound like a personal obsession rearing its head again, Andrion,’ I said, ‘but I do rather expect that if we were to start turning over rocks in Asturia, we’d eventually find a Grolim lurking under one of them. The Asturian mind is the perfect target for Grolim chicanery. I’ve never yet encountered one of these Asturian schemes that didn’t have a Grolim source. Ctuchik’s been obsessed with the idea of starting a general war among the kingdoms of the west since the Murgos crossed the land-bridge some nine hundred years ago. He desperately wants to build a fire, and he always goes to Asturia to find kindling.’
“The War of the Gods ended two thousand years ago, Pol,’ Andrion disagreed.
‘No, dear one, it didn’t. It’s still going on, and at the moment, we’re all engaged in it. I think that after the Battle of Seline’s finished, I’ll drift on over into Asturia and start uprooting trees until I find Garteon’s tame Grolim. Then I’ll take him – piece by piece – on down to Rak Cthol and drop him on Ctuchik’s head.’ It came out from between clenched teeth.
‘Thou art truly out of sorts today, Polgara,’ he observed. ‘Didst thou and thy champion perchance have a falling-out?’
‘I wouldn’t exactly call it that, Andrion,’ I replied. ‘It was more in the nature of a disagreement.’
‘On a military matter?’
‘No. It was more important than that. Ontrose will come around to my way of thinking, however. I promise you that.’
‘It doth pain me to see thou and thy champion at odds,’ he said. ‘Might I offer my services as conciliator?’
The notion of Duke Andrion’s intervention in this situation struck me as enormously funny, for some reason, and I burst out laughing. ‘No, dear Andrion,’ I said. “This is one of those things Ontrose and I are going to have to work out for ourselves. Thanks for the offer, though.’