Brand sighed. ‘I suppose so,’ he said. Then he looked out over the bloody field. ‘I guess we’d better clean this up. It’s summer, and if we just leave all those bodies lying out there to rot, there’ll be a pestilence in Vo Mimbre before the snow flies.’
The funeral pyres were vast, and it took every tree from the forest just to the north to consume all those dead Angaraks.
After we’d tidied up, we discovered that Aldorigen and Eldallan had gone off some distance to discuss their differences. The discussion was evidently quite spirited, since they were both dead when they were finally discovered. There was a rather profound object-lesson in that fact. If Mimbre and Asturia were to continue their centuries-old squabble, it was quite obvious that they’d soon go down that very same road.
There were hot-heads on both sides who’d have preferred to ignore the obvious, but Mandorin and Wildantor, the two Arendish heroes of the battle, stepped in to put an end to the bickering by the simple expedient of offering to fight any of their compatriots who were too fond of their antagonism to listen to reason. There’s a certain direct charm to the assertion that ‘If you don’t do it my way, I’ll kill you.’
Anyway, the two Arendish friends approached Brand with an absurd proposal. They offered him the crown of Arendia. As luck had it, I was close enough to Brand to dig my elbow sharply into his ribs to keep him from laughing in their faces. He managed to keep a straight face and diplomatically declined, pleading a prior commitment.
That bell that rings inside my head when two young people who are destined to marry meet for the first time had already given me the answer to Arendia’s political problems, and I’d obliquely suggested it to Brand – quite some time before the battle, actually. When he raised the possibility to Mandorin and Wildantor, however, they both burst out laughing. The reason for their laughter became obvious when the proposal was presented to Korodullin and Mayaserana. Terms such as ‘Mimbrate butcher’ and ‘outlaw wench’ do not bode well for the prospects of a happy marriage.
That’s when I stepped in. ‘Why don’t you children think this over before you make a final decision?’ I suggested. ‘You both need to calm down and talk it over between you – in private.’ Then I ordered them to be locked up together in a little room at the top of the south tower of the palace.
“They’ll kill each other, Pol,’ father predicted when we were alone.
‘No, actually they won’t. Trust me, Old Man. I know exactly what I’m doing. I have arranged a lot of marriages, after all.’
‘Not like this one – and if one of them kills the other, Arendia’s going to explode in our faces.’
‘Nobody’s going to get killed, father, and nothing’s going to explode. It may not look like it, but the notion of marrying each other is already planted, and it’s starting to seep into their minds – slowly, I’ll grant you. They’re Arends after all, and nothing seeps through solid stone very fast.’
‘I still think it’s a mistake.’
‘I don’t suppose you’d care to make a wager on that, would you, father?’ I offered.
He glared at me and then left, muttering to himself. Father and I have occasionally made wagers with each other, and as nearly as I can recall, he hasn’t won any yet.
Then came the famous conference that resulted in what history calls ‘the Accords of Vo Mimbre’. We didn’t treat Tolnedra very well during that conference, I’m afraid. The presence of the legions at the battle had saved the world from Angarak enslavement, and then we turned right around and treated Tolnedra like a defeated enemy. First, however, we had to head off the enthusiastic Alorn Kings, who all wanted to offer Brand the crown of the King of the World. When Mergon, the Tolnedran ambassador, protested, the Alorns started flexing their muscles. Maybe someday, somewhere, there’ll be an international conference where everyone behaves like a civilized adult, but when it finally rolls around it’ll probably signal the end of the world.
My only real contribution to our impromptu get-together was so obscure that it didn’t even make sense to me at the time. It does now, of course, but that’s only in retrospect. I was adamant about it, and the others gave up and put it in the Accords just as I dictated it. ‘From this day forward upon her sixteenth birthday shall each Princess of Imperial Tolnedra present herself in the Hall of the Rivan King. In her wedding gown shall she be clad, and three days shall she abide there against the coming of the King. And if he comes not to claim her, shall she be free to go wheresoever her father, the Emperor, shall decree, for she shall not be the favored one.’
Mergon, the Tolnedran ambassador, objected violently, of course, but I had all these nice burly Alorns around me to flex their muscles and make dire predictions about what would happen if the Tolnedrans chose to ignore my simple little request.
That took care of the Tolnedran government, but it didn’t really have much impact on Ce’Nedra, who turned out to be the lucky girl. She seems to have had certain objections. She didn’t have a very high opinion of her pre-ordained husband in the first place, and when she discovered that he outranked her, she went up in flames. Rank and station were very important to Ce’Nedra, evidently. I’ll grant you that our tiny princess can be absolutely adorable – when she wants something – but she aged me far more than several dozen centuries ever did. To give you some idea of just how stubborn she could be, it finally took a God – Eriond – to get her anywhere near the Hall of the Rivan King on the appointed day. It’s entirely possible that Eriond will unify the world in peace and harmony, but that won’t even come close to his victory over Ce’Nedra that day in the caverns of Ulgo.
That, of course, brings us to the question of just who it was who prompted mother to insist that I slip that ridiculous obligation into the Accords of Vo Mimbre. If we were out to elect the most probable perpetrator, my vote would go to UL. I’m sure that Gods have a sense of humor, and UL’s would probably be the most obscure.
Note that I avoided the word ‘perverted’ there. Still, one does have to wonder about a God who turns his chosen people into moles, doesn’t one?
Despite my reservations about the Father of the Gods and his probable involvement, I will credit the Gorim of Ulgo with keeping the entire conference from blowing up into a general war. The very presence of ‘the holiest man in the world’ kept everyone at least marginally civil, and when he read the Accords to us after it was all over, the document had a faint tinge of ‘Holy Writ’, and the various items it contained seemed to have almost the force of religious obligations. People are used to doing peculiar things for religious reasons, so the fact that many things in the Accords didn’t make any sense was smoothed over as long as we all tacitly agreed to view them as religious.