‘Of course. If I want farm produce, I can buy it right here in Tolnedra. I don’t have to go all the way to Sendaria for beans and turnips. The only thing that interests me about that place is its location.’
The glimmer of an idea flickered through my mind. ‘Then stability in Sendaria would be to your advantage, wouldn’t it, your Majesty?’
‘Naturally, but that’s what the legions are for.’
‘But legions are expensive, aren’t they, Ran Horb?’
He shuddered. ‘You wouldn’t believe how expensive.’
‘I might.’ I squinted at the ornate ceiling. ‘Sendaria hasn’t really had a central government since I ruled there around the turn of the millennium,’ I mused. ‘That lack of a government has invited all sorts of incursions from the outside. If there were a king and a government – and an army – the people would be secure from outside adventurers, and you wouldn’t have to keep ten or so legions stationed there to maintain order.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘that’s what the “Polgara” business was all about. You want to be the Queen of Sendaria.’
‘Most definitely not, your Majesty. I’m far too busy for any more of that nonsense – nothing personal intended there, of course.’
‘No offense taken, your Grace.’ Then he leaned back in his chair. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘that’s the one thing that’s always made me skeptical when I hear stories about you and your father. If Belgarath’s as powerful as they say he is, he could rule the world, couldn’t he?’
‘He wouldn’t be very good at it, your Majesty. My father absolutely hates responsibility. It interferes with his entertainments.’
‘Now you’ve got me baffled, my Lady. If you don’t want to rule Sendaria, who do you want me to put on the throne? – some lover, perhaps?’
I gave him an icy look.
‘Sorry,’ he apologized. ‘I’ll agree that a formal government in Sendaria would be to everyone’s advantage, but which Sendarian do we saddle with the throne?’
‘We’re talking about a nation of turnip-farmers, your Majesty,’ Khanar noted. ‘Some of them may have titles, but they’re still out in their fields at the crack of dawn just like their neighbors.’
‘I think you’re underestimating them, Prince Khanar,’ I told him. ‘A successful farmer has many more administrative skills than you might imagine, and he’s probably far more practical than some spoiled noble brat who’s been raised on Arendish epics where nobody ever eats or takes a bath. At least a farmer knows how to pay attention to details.’
‘Now, that’s deflating, isn’t it, your Majesty?’ Khanar said to the emperor. ‘I absolutely devoured Arendish epics when I was a boy, and to be shrugged off as a “spoiled noble brat” bites sort of close to the bone.’
‘This would be in the nature of an experiment, then, wouldn’t it?’ Ran Horb suggested. ‘Do I appoint a king?’
‘I wouldn’t do it that way, your Majesty,’ I replied. ‘Appointing a ruler would just be another form of outside intervention, and if d immediately spawn a fervent opposition. You’d have a revolution up there within a decade, and then you’d have to send fifty legions instead of ten.’
He winced at that. ‘How do we select a king, then?’
‘I could devise a test, your Majesty,’ Khanar offered, ‘and we could confer the crown on whichever Sendar scores the highest grade.’
‘But if you grade the test, Prince Khanar, you’d still start a revolution,’ I told him. ‘The selection of the King of Sendaria can’t be made by either Tolnedra or by Drasnia. It’s going to have to come from within.’
‘A tournament, perhaps?’ Ran Horb said dubiously.
‘These are farmers, your Majesty,’ Khanar reminded him. ‘A battle royal with farm implements could get very messy. I suppose we could give the crown to the man who raises the biggest turnip.’
‘Why not hold an election?’ I asked them.
‘I’ve never had that much faith in elections,’ Ran Horb said dubiously. ‘An election’s nothing more than a popularity contest, and popularity’s hardly a measure of any kind of administrative ability.’
‘Ah – your Majesty,’ Khanar said, ‘we’re not talking about a major power here. Sendaria’s a nice enough place, I suppose, but the world’s not going to tremble very hard if the King of the Sendars makes a few mistakes.’ He laughed then, a cynical Drasnian sort of laugh. ‘Why not just turn the whole thing over to the priesthood instead? We just pick somebody who doesn’t stumble over his own feet too often and then instruct the priests to advise the Sendars that this man’s been chosen to rule by the Sendarian God – which God do the Sendars worship, by the way?’
‘All seven of them,’ I replied. ‘They don’t know about UL as yet, but they’ll probably include him in their religion as well, just as soon as they find out about his existence.’
‘UL?’ Ran Horb said, sounding puzzled.
‘The God of the Ulgos,’ I told him.
‘You mean that place where all the dragons are?’
“There’s only one dragon, your Majesty, and she doesn’t live in Ulgoland. I don’t think religion would be a good basis for a Sendarian monarchy, though. It’d put the priests in command of the nation, and priests don’t make very good rulers. Cthol Murgos is a fairly good example of that. I know the Sendars, believe me, and I think an election might be the best answer – just as long as everybody gets to vote.’
‘Even people who don’t own land?’ Ran Horb asked incredulously.
‘It’s the best way to avoid rebellion later on,’ I reminded him. ‘If domestic tranquility’s what we want, we don’t need some large group of landless non-voters coming up with the idea of redistributing the wealth of the kingdom after a few years.’
‘We can give it a try, I suppose,’ the emperor said dubiously. ‘If it doesn’t work, maybe I will have to annex Sendaria. I wouldn’t really want the idea of elections to spread, since I’d probably be the first one voted out of office, but Sendaria’s a special case, I guess. Nobody really cares who gets the Sendarian throne as long as he keeps things quiet up there. We definitely don’t need another Arendia on our hands.’ He made a sour face. The Arends are starting to make me very tired. I think it’s time for me to come up with a way to put an end to their perpetual civil war. It’s bad for business.’ Then his eyes brightened. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘now that we’ve solved all the world’s problems, why don’t you go ahead and prove to me that you really are Polgara the Sorceress, your Grace.’